Summer Adventure: Fruit U-picks

We are fortunate that all around us here are some pretty amazing farms where you can pick your own fruits.  With summer here, get the family in the car and drive to one the farms below to pick your own fruit.  The little ones will love running around in the orchards and will thoroughly enjoy picking their own fruit.  The toughest challenge is controlling the children (and grown-ups!) from picking too much fruit. Ending up with 20 pounds of peaches poses it’s own challenges.  Stacie and her family recently went cherry picking in Brentwood and we were the grateful recipients of their over-picking! 🙂  Last year, Stacie did a wonderful post on what she did with her bounty of cherries – do check it out – Cherries from Heaven.

The farms allow for picnickers, so pack a lunch picnic and make a full day trip out of it.  Check out our picnicking ideas and recipes here.

The little ones are more likely to try fruit that they have picked themselves and this can be used as an opportunity to introduce some new fruits to picky eaters.  In addition, you are never too young to learn where your food comes from and realize how much hard work goes into growing food.  The farms below are some of our favorites for fruit picking with the munchkins.

Swanton Berry Farm

Swanton Berry Farm is one of the most popular growers of strawberries in the Bay Area.  Their delectable strawberries are available at several Bay Area farmers markets, but picking the strawberries yourself far more delightful.

The strawberry u-pick, located about 10 miles north of Santa Cruz is currently open from 8am-8pm everyday. U-Pick berries are usually only $2.50/lb. Swanton’s Coastways Ranch in Pescadero is the site for their u-pick kiwis and ollalieberries and blackberries.  The farm owners update their website regularly to inform the public on the best times to come to the farm.  If you are in Pescadero for berry and kiwi picking, do leave enough time to eat lunch at Duarte’s Tavern and visit Harley Goat Dairy Farm (we love it) for delicious and hand-crafted goat cheeses.

Freitas Cherry Ranch

Freitas Cherry Ranch comes highly recommended and since cherry season is here (it runs from mid May to mid June), the timing is perfect to visit this farm in Brentwood.  This is one of the few farms to feature Coral Champagne Cherries, which are among the sweetest and darkest cherries one can find.  As the orchards are not mature, they still have many low hanging branches for the younger pickers and  ladders are available to reach to the higher branches.  The farm only accepts payment in cash, so come prepared.  Might be too late for cherry picking, but take note of it for next year.

Gabriel Farm

Sebastopol in Sonoma County is apple country and the Gabriel Farm is a 14-acre organic farm located in the ideal fruit growing climate of Sebastopol, California. The Farm features 8 varieties of Asian Pears, several varieties of apples, Fuyu persimmons, plums, many sorts of berries and lavender.  Check out our adventure to Gabriel Farm a couple of years ago.  We had a blast!

Gabriel’s Farm is the definition of a traditional “family farm” and they have a quaint, newly fixed up farm store surrounded by picnic benches and free roaming chickens.  The farm is an ideal spot for fruit picking and picnicking.  Perhaps, you can make some Apple-Pear Butter with your bounty of apples and pears.

Since you are in Sebastopol, a stop at Screamin’ Mimi’s Ice Cream Parlor  absolutely essential and if your kids allow it sneak in some wine-tasting.

Harvest Time in Brentwood

Harvest Time in a non-profit organization and they produce a farm trail map that directs you to over 40 growers in Brentwood which sell directly to the consumer and allow customers to pick their own fruits and vegetables.  Their map (you can download it from the internet) and website are very comprehensive and worth checking out before you head out.

Their website also lays out u-pick guidelines and has a harvest calendar (hooray!), so you know when to go based on your fruit and vegetable preferences.  A listing of farms is also available.  Brentwood is truly a fruit and vegetable paradise growing everything from artichokes to plouts to walnuts.  Deciding where to go and what to pick is tough and if you are like me you will try to cram way too many farms in! 🙂

Harley Farms: A Romp with the Goats

I have been meaning to check out Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero for years and when Ria’s class was scheduled for a field trip to the farm, I cleared my calendar and immediately signed up to be a chaperone.  I am a little bit of “farm visiting nut” and am often dragging friends and family (some whining and kicking) to some farm or the other.  For me (and Ria), this field trip was a dream come true.  Totally worth the long drive with three “crazy” kids in the car.  I did manage to keep them relatively “subdued” by playing a book on tape for both legs of the trip.

We learned a lot about goats and the process of how goat cheese is made, start to finish.  It was also “baby goat season” and we got to feed and pet newly born (one day old) goats (cute!) as part of out tour.  We even saw a little goat stand up for the first time!  I am not sure if the kids learned this, but I realized what hard work making cheese is and how much love goes into it.  Harley Farms takes great care of their animals and is committed to making a superior product.  If any of the goats get sick and have to be on antibiotics, they don’t use that goat’s milk for a month!  Pretty impressive, in my book.  In a world where a lot of what we eat is artificial, hyper-processed and pesticide and antibiotic laden, the farm’s commitment to creating sometime pure is remarkable.  Plus, it comes through in the taste – their end-product is impeccable.

The goat cheeses that they make at Harley Farms are not available at too many retail locations, but you can order them online or better still visit them and purchase the cheese at possibly the best farm shop in the world.  As expected of me, I went a little crazy with my cheese purchases.  Handcrafted, beautiful, creamy, super fresh and organic, these goat cheeses are like no other goat cheese I have tasted before.  The Harley Farms chevre, fromage blanc, ricotta and feta cheeses are consistent winners at the American Cheese Society awards, and hold two international World Cheese Show medals.  Ria and I were both enamored by what they call the “Monet Rounds” decorated with edible flowers grown right at the farm.

It was a laughter filled, exciting (and educational) day and the children loved being nibbled on by the goats.  No one was safe from being “attacked” by a goat trying to eat your jacket.  In spite of the lingering goat smell and all the goat poop on our shoes, much fun was had by all.  Ria and I cannot wait to go back and drag some of our unsuspecting friends with us.

The Harley Farms website is full of information about the farm and their cheeses. Check it out for more information on farm tours and farm dinners.  If you are in Pescadero to visit Harley Farms, you must stop by Duarte’s Tavern for some of their famous crab cioppino, seafood, artichoke soup and olallieberry pie.  Erratic coastal weather permitting, hit the beach before or after.  The perfect food adventure and day trip all rolled into one.

This coming weekend for Mother’s Day – because this is what I want to do – we are off to Redwood Hill Farm in Sebastopol for their Spring farm tour.  It promises goat milking, play time with baby goats and samples of goat cheese and their other products.  You can also pack a picnic and eat lunch there.  I am also plan on taking along a cooler to bring home some of their award-winning goat milk cheeses, yogurts and kefirs home.  In my book, that is the perfect Mother’s Day. 🙂