When was the last time you picked a peach? Not just picked out, from a $3.99/lb display at Whole Foods or off a piled-high table at the Alemany Farmers’ Market, but stood in the shade of a heavily laden tree, your hand cupped around a sun-heated, peach-fuzzed fruit, watching a bead of juice rolling from stem to cleft, the breeze heavy with the scent of sweet fruit and summer-dry grass?
Now’s the time to get up close and personal with local fruit, whether you’re planning fill the pantry with apricot jam, stock the freezer with berries (or berry ice cream), or go crazy for cobbler. Whatever your plans, you’ll have loads of sticky fun picking your own at one of the Bay Area’s many family-friendly u-pick orchards and farms.
A few tips before you go:
- Call ahead to check availability. Mother Nature is fickle, and a small change in the weather can slow down or speed up the ripening process. Call and find out what’s actually ripe and ready before you head out.
- Bring cash. Most small farms are cash-only, doing their business in dollars and quarters, not ATM cards.
- Fruit needs sunshine and heat to get sweet, which means you’ll be leaving San Francisco’s cool fogs behind. Bring shady hats for everyone, plus sunscreen and plenty of water. Wearing lightweight, long-sleeved cotton shirts and long pants (rather than skimpy tank tops and shorts) will protect your skin better and keep you from getting scratched by vines or branches. Also, wear closed-toed shoes or sneakers, not flip-flops or sandals.
- Bring a large picnic cooler with ice, especially if you’re picking berries. Nothing rots a perfect strawberry faster than heat and moisture, so if you want to keep those berries perfect on the drive home, pack them into a cooler rather than leaving them to swelter when you stop for lunch.
- Leave your dog at home. All the things dogs like to do–sniff, dig, run around–can do damage to fields and crops. And no one wants to pick a strawberry after they’ve seen Fido lift a leg over it.
Hot days, cool nights, and rich alluvial soil makes the San Joaquin River Delta a perfect growing spot for everything from apricots to corn. This week, look for cherries and loquats at Brentwood’s Wolfe Ranch, a family-run farm that’s been growing fruit since 1936. As the summer progresses, the farm will have apricots, white and yellow peaches, plums, tomatoes, and more, including much sought-after Royal Blenheim apricots and Suncrest peaches. Get on their mailing list for weekly updates and availability. Also in Brentwood is Tachella Family Farms, which offers both an indoor farm stand and u-pick, and Bacchini’s Fruit Tree, a Bay Area favorite for olallieberries as well as peaches, plums, pluots, and more. Pease Ranch has lots of cherry varieties to span the early summer season (Burlats, Bings, Rainers, Chinook, Vans, and more) followed by olallieberries, loganberries, and boysenberries.
In the South Bay, Webb Ranch, a family-run farm in operation since 1922, opens its 2012 u-pick berry season on June 14. The farm in Portola Valley is open for u-pick Thursday through Sunday through July 8, and/or when the berry season finishes.
Down the coast near Santa Cruz, Swanton Berry Farm has u-pick organic strawberries. Olallieberries should be available this month, followed by blackberries in late July; call for availability. In Pescadero, a little further north along the coast, Phipps Country Store and Farm offers u-pick strawberries and olallieberries, as well as a farmstand selling dozens of heirloom and hard-to-find dried beans, many of which are grown on the farm. (And if you can’t wait to get home to the kitchen, you can always get inspired with a slice of olallieberry pie at Duarte’s Tavern.)
Another way to get great pick-your-own access at very affordable prices is to join a local farm’s CSA (community-supported agriculture) program. Many farms with CSA programs offer u-pick days to members when too many tomatoes, strawberries, or peppers are ripening all at once in the fields. It’s a delicious way to meet your farmers and see just where the produce in your weekly veggie box is coming from.
Mariquita Farm grows a wide variety of vegetables, specializing in intriguing and heirloom varieties, with pick-ups in San Francisco and the Peninsula. The farm typically hosts several members’ u-picks of tomatoes and padron peppers throughout the summer. While May’s strawberry parties are past, Eatwell Farm in Dixon has plans for a members’ summer solstice/garlic braiding party on June 23rd along with a tomato-saucing party in August and a chili cookoff in September.