Over the last month, we have been working hard to freeze enough soft fruit to last until next year. I try to find certified organic or un-sprayed fruit. I feel comfortable asking the farmers what growing methods they use. Over a number of years, I get to know people and what they do on their farms. This means I can get products that may not be certified organic but are just as good. I feel good knowing where my food comes from and building a long term relationship with my farmers.
I try to find organic or un-sprayed u-pick situations for soft fruit. I do this for a number of reasons. U-pick fruit is cheaper than buying picked fruit. I can get a better quality product. I know the product has been picked that day which is better for freezing. By freezing the fruit I save money even if the price is higher for organic or local fruit. I also know my money stays in my community and doesn’t go to some faceless corporation half way around the world. Of course, I’m bringing my children and I don’t want them to be picking (and eating) in a sprayed field. Nor do I want the farmers to have to get sick from working in sprayed fields to feed me!
I also want my children to know where their food comes from. A child that has picked strawberries knows it comes from a small perennial plant, blueberries from bushes, and cherries from trees. The experience of meeting the farmer and seeing the farm is a priceless experience. I want the children to have some idea of the work involved in picking, preparing and storing food for the winter. Even when they get tired and stop helping, they seem to take it all in by osmosis. They enjoy the experience many times over in the winter when the sweet fruit brings back the memory of the hot summer day picking on the farm. I am surprised at the complex detail in these remembered stories.
If you have never gone to a u-pick before, I have a few tips to make it fun with children:
1. Call ahead to ensure the picking is good and children are welcome. Find out if you need directions to find the u-pick. I try to pick near the end of the season to have really ripe fruit but this is just a personal preference.
2. Ask if there is any special equipment you need to bring for picking. I normally have a number of small pails, boxes for fruit, and plastic freezer bags.
3. Bring water and picnic food.
4. Go as early in the morning as possible to avoid the heat of the day and wear suitable clothing, especially a hat.
5. When you get there ask for picking advice if you don’t know what to do. Make sure the children hear how to pick correctly to avoid damaging the plants.
6. Ask if the children can eat while picking. Usually this is allowed and cannot be stopped in any case.
7. Bring another adult to help pick and share looking after the children if required. Bringing a group of families can be fun too!
8. Bring cash.
I have listed the u-pick farms I have visited this year. Their information is available on the website. I listed the amounts I picked for freezing for a family of four:
1. Golden Ears Farm, RR2 S25 C18, Chase, BC: 250.679.8421: 35 pounds of un-sprayed strawberries in June. I normally need 100 pounds for the winter. This year I picked too close to the end of the season and I could not get back for more.
2. Highland Farm, 4360 30St, NE, Salmon Arm, BC: 250.803.0048: 90 pounds of certified organic cherries in July. Find a good bulk pitter if you are going to freeze.
3. Blueberry Hill Farm, 4886 South Grandview Flats, Armstrong, BC: 250.246.4099: 65 pounds of un-sprayed blueberries in August. I will be going back for more. This is a favorite berry in the household. I will need about 150 pounds.