By Rose McAvoy
We are so blessed in the Pacific Northwest to have a climate well suited to growing all sorts of berries. We are also blessed that it is not particularly difficult to get out of the developed areas and visit berry farms or woods were the uncultivated native varieties grow.
At the peak of their growing season berries get to be delightfully affordable. Close to home they are sold in supermarkets, fruit stands, farmers’ markets, and from truck beds at busy intersections. If you have a car and as few as three hours you can drive a short distance to the fields and buy directly from the growers and even pick them yourself.
I really like to take several trips throughout the summer to u-pick berries that we will freeze to use the rest of the year. The romance factor is high with berry picking. U-pick fields are often in a scenic spot. During picking season the plants themselves are lush and the ripening berries perfume the air. You’ll see barns, hear birds, and fill your lungs with clean country breezes. Pulling up to a u-pick field often feels like landing in a jig-saw puzzle.
Tips for u-pick success:
- Prepare for full sun exposure. Plants need lots of sun to grow those bountiful berries, don’t expect any shade on the fields.
- Pack multiple water bottles. I like to have two per picker, one in the field and another in the car in a cooler for post picking rehydrating.
- Check with the farm before heading out to the field. Even if they have posted business hours there are numerous reasons a field may be closed for picking on any given day. Check their Facebook page, website, or call to make sure they are open for picking.
- Go with buddies. Once the romance of the activity wears off, and it will, you can pass the time gabbing while your fingers hunt for the ripest berries on the bushes.
- Take the kids. U-picking is a fantastic activity for children, a trip to a berry field just oozes learning opportunities. If your kids are small pair up with one or more other families so you can take turns keeping an eye on the little ones while the others pick.
- Go in the morning. Picking is most comfortable in the cooler morning air. You are also likely to find the most berries in the morning before they get snapped up by other pickers.
- Wear work/play clothes and shoes that can get messy. You are going to get sticky, sweaty, and dirty. I like to bring a change of clothes and shoes to keep the car a little cleaner and to be more comfortable post picking. Your hands (and children) may be stained for a day or two but they will smell like sun ripened berries so its a pretty decent trade.
- Pack snacks and a picnic. You’ll be working up an appetite and even though I’m sure more than one perfect berry will find its way into your mouth, you’ll want something a bit more substantial at some point.
- In my experience we can pick happily for an hour or two before taking a break. This may be enough time to pick all you can manage or it may be a good time to pause and take in the scenery.
- Take a few small or medium containers. The field will give you berry boxes to carry your fruit home but it is nice to pick into a smaller container and then dump into the big one. The smaller container is more comfortable to hold and if you happen to drop it you won’t lose your entire haul.
- Be prepared to eat, use, or freeze your berries within 12-24 hours of picking. When you are at the field ask for tips on the best way to handle the specific berries you are picking.
- Now you are ready to shorten your food chain! Now, let’s find a farm…
In the Puget Sound region Puget Sound Fresh is the go to source for folks to find farms and farmers markets. Their website is very well organized and I use it throughout the year. I really appreciate the number of filters they offer to fine tune a search on their site. On the “farm” page you can search by crop or location and then narrow the choices by other factors such as u-pick, organic, whole sale, and more. There is a comprehensive crop schedule so you can plan ahead for when things will be in season and where you might be able to pick them yourself. If you wind up picking more than you know what to do with, I’ve been there, click on their “recipe” tab for a long list of ideas that can also be filtered by ingredient.
Don’t forget! U-picking is available for other fruits and some vegetables, berries just happen to be my favorite.
Do you U-Pick? Please share your tips!