One of our family's favorites ways to get fresh fruit is to go the U-Pick route. Leading the U-Pick parade in Michigan this time of year is strawberries. Our family went this past week and picked from a local farm/orchard that uses organic practices with all their produce. We were able to pick about 26 pounds of strawberries! (Some farms use organic practices in their produce but haven't paid the fees for becoming certified organic. This is good enough for our family.)
Of those 26 pounds, we will eat some fresh, freeze some whole (for smoothies), freeze some sliced (for strawberry shortcake later in the winter), and make some homemade jam. I also try to use some of the fresh berries for a few fun recipes like strawberry soup.
In our opinion, U-pick farms are the way to go. You can pick a large quantity of produce for cheaper than you could get it at the store. For example, we paid $1.55 per lb this week, whereas the organic variety at our local grocery store this week on sale are $2.50/lb. Plus, it's a good idea to buy in bulk now and freeze some for the winter when strawberries will be at their peak price.
There are a few things that I try to buy only organic these days, and strawberries are one of them. They happen to be #3 on the EWG's Dirty Dozen list that lists the top 12 worst produce to buy in the non-organic variety. Their Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists help you make an informed decision about whether or not a produce item is worth getting organic.
Organic strawberries really are a must because they can have up to 13 pesticides sprayed on them before they reach your tastebuds. Yum.
As for U-pick farms and orchards, my husband and I have gone apple picking for years now, but starting a couple of summers ago we added strawberries to our annual family traditions. Then last summer we added raspberries and blueberries to our U-pick list. This year we plan to add cherries (ready the first of July) and peaches (ready the first of August). A lady from my church has graciously offered to teach me how to can peaches and applesauce and I am so excited...seriously, I cannot wait!
If you're looking for a great resource for preserving the season's bounty, Stephanie Langford includes a section on that in her book, Real Food on a Real Budget. I plan on checking out a few other resources she recommends as well.
If you're planning to be picking a lot of strawberries there are a few tools you really must have in your kitchen. My two favorites are Pampered Chef products (I know a consultant if you need one). They are the cook's corer (for hulling) and the egg slicer plus (for slicing berries). Carter is demonstrating the egg slicer plus below. :)
After all that strawberry picking we ended the day with some yummy strawberry shortcake. The kids LOVED it and I couldn't help taking a picture of each of them eating it.
This picture cracks me up. It was like he was trying to get the biggest possible bite in there!
Little Miss Curly digging in as well. :)
And Caleb was enjoying himself, too!Our trip to the strawberry farm was a blast! I love that my husband took the day off, that our family all crammed into our old subaru, that we picked berries and ate them to our heart's content, that the kids got to pet and feed the animals at the U-pick farm, that they got to run around on the great play area and that we all split a couple of yummy cider slushes. When I wearily crawled into bed that night I said, "Now that was a fun day."
As you can see, U-pick has more than one kind of healthiness for your family in mind. Not only are you getting pesticide-free food (now that is yummy!) but you're also building healthy memories with your kids. It doesn't get much better than that, huh?
If you're looking for some U-pick farms in your area go to www.pickyourown.org. Click on "Start Here to Find a Farm Near You." Any farms that use organic practices will be hi-lighted in green.
Does your family go to U-pick farms? If so, for what kinds of produce? Do you have any canning/preserving tips to share?