The summer brings many things: hot weather, long days and bored kids. Whether you have little ones or teens under your roof, finding something to do that gets them off the couch and away from screens can be a challenge. However, this season brings one of the best budget-friendly activities that any age can enjoy — and it’s close to home. We’re talking about pick-your-own farms (also called U-Pick farms), where you can spend hours picking deliciously ripe fruits and veggies straight from the tree, vine, bush or field. Here’s everything you need to know about planning the perfect outing.
Far from the farm? Your region’s best produce can be found at a farmer’s market near you. In addition to in-season fruits and vegetables, you can also often find locally-made treats such as cakes, cookies, jams, and even cheeses. To find a market near you, start your search at the National Farmers Market Directory.
1. Know What’s In Season
There’s always something new to pick every week during the summer. July brings the biggest selection of the most crowd-pleasing favorites, like peaches, nectarines, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, tomatoes, sweet corn, cucumbers and zucchini. When each fruit or vegetable starts its season depends on your location.
2. Plan Your Trip
Pick-your-own farms can be large or small, focusing on one type of fruit or vegetable or offering a wide range of options. Some also use organic or special sustainable growing methods. You can find nearby options by searching your state at PickYourOwn.org.
After you’ve decided on a farm to visit, it’s time to plan the day to maximize fun. In general, you’ll have the best selection, least competition and nicest weather for picking by visiting the farm as soon as it opens. Regardless of when you go, pack smart with plenty of sunscreen, bottled water, wet wipes (to keep hands clean), small snacks and a few reusable totes. Hint: Turn the outing into a cute family photo opp — while also keeping the sun out of your eyes — by picking up hats in matching colors from the craft store.
3. Help Kids Pick The Best
The ripest fruit and vegetables generally have a few things in common: Vibrant color, a delicious scent and minimal bruising. When picking, ripe fruit can be removed from the tree, plant, bush or stem with ease. Here are a few more tips for the season’s most popular produce:
– Sweet Corn: The best ears have a bright green husk without any holes, a light brown or gold “tassel” of silk (which should also be a little sticky) and have plump kernels that you can feel when you give the ear a squeeze.
– Peaches: Nothing compares to a perfectly ripe peach! A good one will feel heavy for its size and “give” slightly when gently squeezed. Don’t overlook the fruit that has fallen to the ground. If you see a peach that’s bruise-free and not mushy, it might just be a delicious find.
– Tomatoes: In addition to beautiful color, ripe tomatoes aren’t too hard (or soft) and feel heavy for their size.
4. Make It A Learning Experience
A farm is the best classroom for learning how their favorite fruits and veggies grow. Have kids come up with questions for the farmers and farm staff, like: How long did it take the fruit or vegetable to grow? What do you do with the fruit or vegetables that aren’t picked?
You can also ask kids to guess how many fruits or veggies they’ve picked, or how many pounds they think you picked. For older kids: Have them guess how many pounds — and how much the total cost will be.
5. Try A New Recipe
Once you start picking, it’s hard to stop! Use your bounty to make a special salad or dessert together. Here are a couple of our favorites: