Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pick Your Own

Camp Brighton is still in full swing although we have temporarily relocated up north for a visit with the all-important grandparents. Unfortunately, my camera and a good internet connection were left behind in Charlotte. Alas, we are making do...

One of our summer traditions has always been blueberry picking. We are lucky enough to have a wonderful farm just a few minutes away from my parents' house. However, no matter what state we have lived in - Ohio, Massachusetts, and now, North Carolina, I have enjoyed searching out "pick-your-own" opportunities because they are so much fun and also a great way to support local farms and businesses.

It isn't too difficult to find out if there are any local fruits or veggies just waiting to be picked by you and your family. Most state agriculture boards offer a list of pick your own farms. There is also a great website - aptly named - that allows you to search by state to find farms near you. In North Carolina, we are lucky to have a vibrant community that strives to support local agriculture and a local author, Diane Daniel, recently released a new book - Farm Fresh North Carolina - an excellent guidebook to exploring food and farms all over the state.

Off to a good start!
Enjoying the view from my back ...

Blueberry picking is an activity that can be enjoyed by children of all ages. Because the blueberry bushes are generally small - most of the bushes at the farm we were picking at were all shorter than an average adult - the berries are very low to the ground and can be easily picked by your littlest walker. Buckets were provided upon our arrival and we were directed to a small grove of bushes just bursting with blueberries.

Our tired crew is ready to go home!
The children were issued 2 simple instructions, "Only pick the blue ones and don't pick up the ones on the ground." The children scattered, eager to get picking. My friend and I were left alone to leisurely chit chat and pick our own buckets of berries.  This activity is such a great way to get your kids outside, enjoying the fresh air, and really connecting their food to the actual source. Blueberries already enclosed in a plastic clamshell will never look the same again!

When you look for a local farm, you will want to be aware of hours and picking conditions. We arrived at the farm rather early - we wanted to make sure the farm didn't get "picked out" and we also didn't want the kids to get overheated as the day wore on. Our farm had picking hours from 7 to 12 so be sure to call ahead to confirm that the farm is open and ready for your gang.

Of course, one of the best parts of a pick-your-own farm experience is the built-in snack factor but another great aspect is the ability to bring home your loot and continue to eat it and cook with it. The very next day we made a blueberry quick bread and a blueberry streusel cake. Delicious!! If you find that you have picked too many blueberries, you can always freeze them. Don't wash them first. I like to measure out 2 cups of blueberries at a time and place them in freezer bags. Other techniques suggest laying them out on a cookie sheet and freezing them before putting them into freezer bags and storing in the freezer. Blueberries keep very well in the freezer - we have easily kept them past six months in a cold part of the freezer with no issues. Find yourself a farm and get picking!

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