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U-Pick fruit picking season is upon us—and if your children’s only experience with fresh fruit is eating it out of store-bought plastic clam shells, you really owe it to yourself to take them picking this year! I’ve dragged my children raspberry, strawberry, blueberry and cherry picking since before they could walk. Whatever fruit we don’t eat right away, we freeze for future smoothies and pancakes or make jam, which we eat all year long. And while young children aren’t always reliable helpers, consider the trip as an outdoors adventure, from which they’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the effort that took to get a quart of ripe blueberries on the table. But before you head to the farm or orchard, review these U-Pick fruit picking tips.
1. Find out where a U-Pick farm is near you. This site will give you an overview of some U-Pick farms or orchards, which are found in all 50 states. But it’s not exhaustive by any means. Check online and print listings to see what comes up and ask friends and locals. Once you’ve narrowed your list of farms, consider what varieties of fruit they grow. We once drove 20 minutes farther to a new farm because it had Saskatoon serviceberries, which look like blueberries but taste like apples.
2. Call ahead, or check their social media pages if that’s how they communicate updates. Farms sell out to land developers, close early for flooding, extreme heat or run out of a particular type of fruit from day to day. (I’ve experienced all of the above.) Picking seasons vary every year depending on the weather conditions, and you certainly don’t want to drive an hour to a farm only to realize it’s closed!
3. Be prepared. Bring water, bug spray, hats, and wear sunscreen and closed-toe shoes. If you’re venturing into an overgrown raspberry patch, you might want to wear long pants to protect yourself from the thorny brambles the fruit grows on. And make your little ones use the bathroom before you head out.
4. Bring cash! Many places do not take credit or debit cards.
5. And speaking of money, don’t assume because you’re picking the fruit yourself it’s next to free. You’ll usually save 20 percent from the farm-stand prices, but just make sure you know the price per pound or quart or however they charge before you start picking. My family once hit a cherry orchard and picked $75 worth of fruit in 25 minutes. Ouch!
6. Bring your own containers. Most places will give you a small discount if you provide your own containers. I usually raid the kitchen for every plastic container I can get my hands on, or save those quart and pint containers from the store.
7. It’s not a fruit buffet! Once the picking begins, the U-Pick owners will assign you a row from which to pick, and your kids might end up putting more into their mouths than in their buckets; remind them the fruit is unwashed and contains nasty pesticides—unless you’re at an organic farm.
8. Pick only ripe fruit: This might sound obvious, but ask the U-Pick owners how to distinguish between under-ripe, ripe and overripe fruit and what’s the best way to handle it. Berries and cherries, for instance, don’t continue to ripen once picked. A ripe red raspberry is a deep hue of red and easily slips off the stem; if you have to tug at it, it’s not ripe yet.
9. Look underneath. Often the best berries are hiding underneath, exactly at the eye level of a toddler or preschooler. Lift up the brambles or push back the strawberry stems to show them how key their role is in finding the juiciest fruit.
10. Keep them cool: Once you’ve paid for your haul, make sure you have a cooler in the car stocked with lots of blue ice to transport your fruit home and keep it from spoiling pre-maturely.
Now, what are you waiting for? Get picking so you and your family can enjoy some of the tasty fruit out there.
-Patty Riedman Yeager