One of the pure joys of the summer are mouth-watering flavors of fresh fruit and vegetables - and picking them directly from a local farm is even better! Here are some tips to make the most of a family-friendly outing at any Calgary and area U-Pick farm.
Plan ahead. Depending on the type of fruit or vegetable you are interested in picking, varieties will be ready for harvest at different times of the summer and into fall. Not all farms offer the same produce; some farms will specialize in just one type of berry, for example. The Alberta Farm Fresh Producers Association’s website (albertafarmfresh.com/default.aspx) has a list of farms and the types of produce they grow. Most growers also have their own websites and update regularly on social media during the growing season. Remember that some farms are not open every day of the week, and they may have limited hours of operation. It’s always best to call before you visit to make sure they are open for business.
During the heat of the summer, the best time of day to pick most fruit and vegetables is in the early morning. Fresh-picked produce will tend to wilt easily if the sun is blazing down. Bring a cooler with you and pack your harvest into it as quickly as you can. Don’t leave your goods in a hot vehicle for too long.
Some farms will not permit you to bring your pets on-site, or they will require you to keep your dog(s) on a leash. If you want to bring your pet(s) with you, inquire first. While outside food and picnicking is allowed at some farms, others may not be receptive to the idea. Again, checking first with the U-Pick will clear up any misunderstandings and inconvenience before you arrive.
Be prepared for all conditions and situations. Covering up bare skin will help prevent bites and scrapes and will reduce sun exposure. Apply sunscreen (often), insect repellant, and wear a hat! Pack along a small First-Aid kit. If the ground is muddy, rubber boots may be useful. Don’t forget to bring extra bottles of water for the family to drink. Depending on what you are planning to pick, folding camp chairs will make the task more comfortable for the family, too. If your crew is picking from prickly plants, such as raspberries, gloves may be desirable.
Some growers will charge a small grazing fee in addition to the cost of the fruits and vegetables you pick, which will be payable when you arrive. It’s always a good idea to have cash on-hand (although some large operations will accept debit and credit cards). Growers charge for their produce in several ways: You may pay by the pound or a flat rate by the bucket or according to the type of produce you are picking. If you are picking berries, farmers will offer empty 4-litre pails for your use. If you bring your own buckets, there may be a nominal discount (but don’t expect it). Some growers will have pre-picked pails ready for you to purchase if you don’t want to do the actual picking yourself.
Some farms offer more than vegetables and fruit for picking! There are cut flower U-Picks so you can choose your own flowers for bouquets, and some farms have U-Fish ponds where children can try their hand at landing and keeping a trout. Some feature sunflower and corn mazes in the autumn; others have playgrounds, outdoor games, and picnic areas. There may be a retail store or even a café where you can buy fresh produce, as well as jams, jellies, honey, cold drinks, or delicious baking.
A trip to a U-Pick farm can be a fun learning experience and a fantastic way to spend a few hours exploring the outdoors - and as a bonus, you’re supporting Alberta growers!
Sheryl is a Calgary writer and master gardener. Check out her website at floweryprose.com.
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