6 Reasons to Visit a Pick-Your-Own Farm this Summer

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Last week, my good friend blogged about going strawberry picking with her husband and two kids. They visited a "pick your own" farm and picked 20 pounds (yes, POUNDS) of strawberries. All it cost them was 2 hours of their time and about $30.

If you're familiar with how much strawberries cost at the supermarket—and I surely am, since they are my favorite fruit in the world and I wait ALL YEAR for strawberry season—then you know how expensive they can be. One quart of strawberries (approximately 2 pounds of fruit) at the store can cost up to $4 to $8, depending on the season and region where you live—especially if you buy organic, since strawberries are one of the most heavily sprayed crops).

But monetary cost is only one part of the food equation. In truth, these berries often travel hundreds or thousands of miles from the farms where they were grown to the shelves in your supermarket. That has a high environmental cost—but even if you don't care much about that, it still affects the flavor, freshness and nutrient levels of your food. The longer any fruit or vegetable goes from farm to table, the more vitamins are lost along the way. And I won't even get into the taste! When was the last time you ate a vine-ripened, sunshine-warmed strawberry—or any fruit or vegetable for that matter—straight off the plant? If you said "Never," or that you "Can't remember," then my friend, it is time for you to make like a farmer and head to the fields pick your own.

You can find complete listings of pick-your-own farms near you by visiting the website www.PickYourOwn.org. You'll find farms where you can pick berries, apples, herbs and more, but typically, each of these different foods has their own short season of availability. In the Midwest, strawberry season will only last a couple more weeks, for example, but then it'll be time for blueberries and raspberries. I decided to visit Stokes Berry Farm, about 40 miles from my home. (I don't normally drive that far for anything, but for strawberries, I was willing to make an exception.)

6 Reasons to Visit a Pick-Your-Own Farm

1. Save Money. Most of the time, picking your own produce saves you money because you don't have to pay the added costs of someone else picking, packaging, shipping, and shelving your produce. Plus, buying in bulk tends to be less expensive than buying smaller quantities.

2. Pick Perfect Produce. Does it bother anyone else that you can pick an individual apple by perusing the apple stand, but HAVE to buy the whole quart of berries as-is, even when you can clearly see that some of them have seen better days? When you pick your own, you can control that—and choose perfection every time! No more moldy, squishy, under- or overripe fruits to surprise you at the bottom of your container!

3. Connect with the Earth. When I went strawberry picking, I felt a deeper connection to the earth than I do when I head to the big box grocery store in the suburbs. Upon exiting my car after parking, the sweet aroma of strawberries filled the air. It was heavenly! Every so often, I'd just stop picking, sit, and admire the scene, the quietness of the countryside, and the smell of berries in the air. I got my hands dirty, sat on the earth, waded through the rows of plants, and lived to tell about it. If you have kids, bring them along. Most kids today have never even seen what a fruit or vegetable plant looks like. They'll learn that, plus how to pick the best ones, how to tell when it's ripe, and what kind of bugs like to live in the rows of plants. It's educational and fun for the whole family!

4. Get Better Nutrition. Like I mentioned above, fruit and vegetables have more nutrients when you eat them as soon as possible after they're picked. Who knows how many days the California berries were in transit and sitting on the shelf in your Ohio supermarket! When you pick foods at the peak of freshness, they also taste better. And you can also freeze or can your surplus right away to preserve as much of that nutrition as possible—and enjoy it into the coming months.

5. Keep Farmers in Business. When you buy food directly from a farmer, you help support his self-owned business. Most of the food in America is either imported or grown by a handful of very large and powerful corporations that are putting the self-employed farmers out of business one by one. Like any small business, it's hard to compete with the "big guys." And yes it's true that sometimes, local food can cost more. But for many people who have the means to support it (or simply choose to in some cases), they're paying for so much more—the livelihood of people in their own communities who work hard at one of the most grueling and thankless jobs—feeding US. As I kneeled, crouched, bent over and sifted my way through rows of these berries in the hot sun, I thought about how much work was involved in planting, weeding, watering and harvesting them. It's easy to complain about the high prices of food when you buy it at a store and don't really think about what goes into it. But when you do the work yourself—you have a newfound appreciation for how your food dollars cover the hours of physical labor involved in bringing food to your store.

6. Remember Where Your Food Comes From. When was the last time you really thought about where you food came from—besides that you got it at the store. When you shop at the grocery store, you have no real connection to the farm or farmers who worked so hard to grow the food that nourishes you. What are their farming practices? Do they use pesticides? How are their farm hands treated? Visiting your local farmers market or pick-your-own farms can help you establish a connection to the place where you food comes from—and you'll appreciate every bite even more.

My first experience on a pick-your-own farm was fabulous! I made it home with 13 pounds of fresh, fragrant strawberries, and they were the sweetest, juiciest fruits I have ever eaten in my life. I ate them by the handfuls for several few days, made my first strawberry pie (this recipe from Cook's Illustrated is detailed and took several hours, but was SO worth it), and then froze the remaining berries so that I can enjoy that perfect taste and nutrition long after strawberry season is over. In fact, I've decided that this farm picking experience is going to be the first of many. I already have plans to go back to pick more berries before this short season is over, and then to return when blueberries are ready for picking. I highly recommend that you try it yourself, too!

Here's a portion of my 13-pound loot (after I ate several handfuls)!

Have you ever picked your own fruits or vegetables from a local farm—or from your own garden? Now that you know a few good reasons why it's important, are you more likely to try it?

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I loved this as a child. No farms around me to do this now. Report
Oh yeah! Hubby and I picked strawberries and spinach a couple weeks ago. Last summer we also picked blueberries, raspberries and cherries. In the fall, I can't wait to go pick apples. YUM! Report
I haven't gone berry picking in a while, but I do the pick your own apples yearly. This year I will definitely go back to berry picking. Also this will be the first year I have a garden ( condo association finally agreed to it) so I'm looking forward to eating fresh vegetables. Report
We have 8 blueberry bushes just outside my back door. They are early producers,too, because we have picked about a gallon of fresh blueberries already. As I was reading Nicole's blog, I was thinking about how true it is that the fresher the berry, the better. On a bizarre note: My crazy dog eats ripe blueberries from the bushes! No joke, the dog sniffs out the ripe fruit on the lower branches. I don't know how many times I have had to fuss with her about eating our berries. Yesterday, she did refrain from berry picking; however, she lapped up the ripe fruit that had fallen... crazy smart dog! Report
i loved this idea! I went out to the site and found some in my area. now me and the kids are looking forward to picking our own blackberries : ) Report
I grow Roma tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, potatoes, chile peppers, green beans, peas, most years and there is nothing better than growing them and eating them fresh from the garden.
bj Report
We went today to pick blueberries. In 1 hour my two girls and I picked 10lbs. It was a little hot but it was alot of fun and the berries are delicious. Report
I used to pick snap peas with my Grannie when I was a child. I'm so excited this idea was reintroduced to me! I can't wait!!! Report
We have never gone berry pickin' at a farm but have plans to go this next weekend. Can't wait. Now that I have some things to think about while picking. Report
This is such a great idea! I am definitely going to find my own local pick your own farm and go there. Report
I've been looking for things to get me out and about, and this is definitely something I'm planning to do. I haven't been to a pick-your-own farm for years, and am looking forward to drive in the country one evening this week, fresh air and exercise, and some delicious produce to enjoy when I get home. Thanks for the tip :) Report
I've never done this, but will definitely check out Stokes Berry Farm next weekend since I'm just south of Dayton. Looking forward to it! Report
McKenzie and I go out into my strawberry patches every day for the new ripe ones. YUMMY!!! I don't like them as well after they sit in the refrigerator...right off the vine is the Greatest!!! I know there are no pesticides on my plants or berries. I love the Farmer's Market, but I can't wait for the raspberries, tomatoes and peppers. WOOHOO!!! Report
I have been and continue to be 'farmng.' Honestly never considered I would be revisiting the place I grew up. I didn't relish the endless weeding, picking and preparing our veggies. How time changes us. We see through different lenses. I like the feel and smell of the dark fertile soil. It is tranquil and meditative. Second to these thoughts, watching a kernel of 'something' toss away soil and grow and produce is a miracle. I have enjoyed fresh spinach and chard salad and new potatoes. I have pears pruned ready to can.. My tomates will be canned and sold. I have become extremely conscious to have life quality we must enrich our lives with discipline and concern with what goes into the body and concerned with the origin. Report
I used to go strawberry picking every year, (made frozen stawberry jam). Our favorate strawberry farm closed down four years ago, so I need to find a new place. Hope I locate one! yum... Report
Yes. I have done this, and I would like to do it again soon. We were also planning to sign up for one of those deals where, for a subscription fee, you get fresh produce straight from a local farm every week during the growing season. We were too late this year, but it is something I definitely want to do next summer. Report
We live just a few miles from one of the biggest agritourism areas in the state, and I go quite frequently. People drive for hundreds of miles to pick there. All of the farms have stopped doing u-pick strawberries because people were ruining the plants. We u-pick olallieberries, peaches, nectarines, apricots, and cherries. I would pick plums, but nobody offers them as upick, so we just buy them picked from the farms.

While the fruit is delicious fresh and I buy it in quantities, I don't SAVE money buying there. The prices are frequently the same or more than the grocery store. Does anyone else have this experience as well? Report
I have so many strawberries growing in my own patch right now, we're running out of ways to eat them! We've been picking 3-5 lbs every 4 days or so!
They'll stop producing soon, and then we'll have another crop when the weather gets cooler again in the fall.

But my tomatoes, zucchini, and cucumbers are getting ready to blossom~ so I'll have more to pick soon!

I think everyone should have the opportunity to grow or at least pick their own food. The only "sprays" I use are a very diluted soapy water to get bugs off the plants, and then plain old H2O! I know exactly what I'm eating, for at least 50% of the food I consume in the summer.
This year I have so many veggie plants, I plan on also learning how to can food foir the winter months. Report
I LOVE u-pick farms! My favorite are the strawberries - pick one, eat one, pick one, eat one...... just bursting with juicy sunshine goodness! YUM!

When I was a teen, I went with my parents and one brother to a u-pick apple orchard - I think we left with 150 lbs of apples an hour later - my mother and I canned applesauce late into the night, but we also stored apples in the basement and they were great until about April.

I wish we had some u-pick farms around here, but we don't grow much in the USVI - maybe just bananas and papayas (I have a papaya tree in my garden). Report
I did take my daughter blueberry picking one summer and enjoyed it so much! We also have picked some blackberrries. Report
my very favorite thing to do every summer! I'm very fortunate to live within 30 minutes of just about every kind of fruit farm you can think of and we have great family outings every year. It's a great way to get kids interested in eating good fresh food! Report
Just last weekend my daughters, my granddaughter and I went Cherry picking for the first time. It took us about 10 minutes to pick 11 pounds of cherries @ $2 a pound. The kids really enjoyed it and we felt better knowing that every cherry we were eatting was hand picked by us. I will definately take them to pick other fruit as well. Great story! Report
Strawberry picking is a tradition in my family. Its one of my two favorite fruits and around here they come in right around my birthday so we used to go picking as part of the celebration and often my mother used whatever I didn't eat on the way home in making my cake. I hadn't been to pick strawberries in many years until a friend took me for my birthday a few years ago. It was just as much fun as it was when I was a kid, only this time I didn't eat all the evidence before we got back to the stand....(My dad used to pay for my bucket as full even though there was hardly every actually anything in it.....I was usually covered in a lovely red stain from head to toe!!) Report
Every year my daughter and I go blueberry picking, it's so relaxing and we have such a good time. I freeze them and we enjoy them most of the winter. She is 20 now and we still look forward to going. My son is in the Marine corps and when he comes home he looks forward to dessert I make with them. Report
My very first job was picking strawberries for a local farm. I still love to go pick my own, and next year I plan on planting some! Report
We have our own little strawberry patch in our backyard. They have been great this year so sweet and big. Nothing like your own. Report
I used to go strawberry picking at a local Pick Your Own farm every year with my Mom, a friend and her mom. The best part, besides picking great strawberries, was that you could eat as many of them and you liked while you picked. I used to end up with a stomach ache from eating strawberries. It was a good thing they did not weigh us before and after!! Report
I haven't done it for a couple of years. The season is late this summer (in N.E. Wisconsin). Report
We love to pick fresh and often just freeze the strawberries and cherries to just eat frozen for a great snack. I make sugar free jam with the strawberries as well. I have a huge garden so I am my own "farmers market" and can enough to supply all three of my daughters houses, my parents and our house as well as some to other family members. I feel I get a great "work-out" plus healthy vegies so it is a win win for me. Report
My family has picked many fresh fruits and vegetables straight from the farm, and we all love the end results. It doesn't get any better than to have fresh strawberries, raspberries, blueberries & apples. Report
Absolutely and the whole family do it together and we had a blast! Report
I wish I knew where there was one. Report
YES! When I lived in Alabama this was one of our great outing going out early in the morning to pick fruits and vegetables. OH! what a glorious time that was, you got exercise, met wonderful people, enjoyed great food( as a taster).

Plus we had our own little garden. FUN! FUN! FUN!!!! Report
We used to have a big garden until my neighbor got cats :( We've picked tomatoes and green peppers for canning on numerous occasions and would like to try picking strawberries and other berries. I'll have to look into finding a place near us. Thanks for an informative article. Report
I always pick my own. I just finished my last gallon in May. The berries are small this year because of all the rain and flooding here in Illinois. The flavor is still worth the journey and work. I freeze mine whole on cookie sheets then vacuum seal. Report
Yes I have picked my own produce before. It has been awhile, I plan on going next week and picking strawberries with my son and nephew. Report
Love it so much that there are now some things I grow at home. I'm in a very small town and we have a "Locally Grown Only" produce only. Which is great I don't have the room to grow somethings in my yard so I buy from them. We even have several blue berry patches, and my favorite is the pea patch. Report
I love to go pick fresh fruits and veggies. Nothing is better than a ripe tomato off the vine they sure taste different then the store bought ones. Strawberries do as well. It is cost effective, and here in WA very readily available for picking. Report
I distinctly remember picking strawberries at a farm near where I grew up in Michigan. I now live in California, and have wanted to take my kids when they are old enough. Our strawberries are pretty good right off the shelf, though, since they were farmed right here, in most cases. Report
I've always wanted to go strawberry picking. Thanks to the link in the article, I found a farm not too far from my house. My girls are both on their summer breaks, s/o is out of town all next week, and guess what we will be doing? You got it; we're driving out to connect with the earth and experience all the delights of berry picking. Thanks for this blog! Report
Oh Yea! I was raised in gardening and after marriage we had our own garden - picked and canned and froze fresh veggies. Made jelly with fruits. Now that kids are grown and we are in an apartment - just a few herbs in my garden pots. I visit the farmers market often and pick my own fruits occasionally.
I tried it for the first time last year with apples and was very pleased with the quality, variety and price available at our area farms. This year I've already bought a bunch of strawberries. The place we went even had a coupon for a free pint, so I got about 3 pints for 3 bucks plus tax! I've done homemade jam for friends and family, and plan on making some more along with a pie tonight.
It's also very relaxing to wander through the delicious-smelling fields in the warm sun to find your perfect pint... and yes, they taste a bout a million times better than the nasty always-underipe things from the supermarket. Report
My grandparents had a 2 acre garden with everything from strawberries to corn, dill to cukes, asparagus to pears, tomatoes to peppers - and more! Such bounty in that relatively small space. It was a lot of work, but the family ate well all summer long, and into the winter, too! My grandmother had 2 kitchens - one in the cool cellar to 'put food by.' This article made me realize how much I miss those days (and my grandparents)!
When my husband and I lived in New Hampshire, there was an orchard in the next town that we frequented in the fall - and is one of the things we miss the most about living in NH. (Apples in the grocery stores are a poor excuse for apples, fresh from the orchard!)
{big sigh} {another big sigh}
I've never been to a 'pick your own' place and I'm not sure there are any near where we live now, but I'm going to find out! There is nothing in this world like fresh produce!
Thanks for the great article. Oh, the memories . . . Report
I look forward to taking my grandson to local u-pick farms and orchards. Being new to the area and not having done it since my sons were small, I appreciate you providing the info and website. Report
I grow a garden every year, we usually plant tomatoes, cukes and summer and zucchini squash along with some hot peppers, gotta have those hots. It just makes everything taste better!!! Report
Last fall we picked something like 25 pounds of apples over the course of two trips to a pick-your-own farm. On the first trip we also managed to get the tail end of the raspberry season, too. It was so cheap! it was great! I can't wait to do it again! :D Report
I'm hoping you will include the pie recipe here - as I don't need any more subscriptions and couldn't look at the recipe w/out one - even a free one - trying to get the email box cleaned out.
Great blog - as a child growing up in NY - just north of the city - we took a half hour at the most drive and picked our own strawberries in June and Apples in the fall - thanks for taking me back. Report
My Mom and I used to big 3or4 trays every year after we filled our bellys, Hopefully I can do it again this yr, the memories would be nice and the berries YUMMY Report
We usually have a garden but since this year we are in the middle of a move, decided not to plant anything. I love to pick my own fruits, especially apples. I love going to the orchards and trying different kinds of apples. Yum! Can't wait til fall! Report
I do want to pick my own--I just don't know if DH will go for it. One summer when he was a boy, his father was doing migrant farm work to make ends meet while he was laid off and DH and his brother were also given jobs picking fruit. DH hated it, vowed to never do it again if he could help it. Report
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