Strawberry picking with the kids is one of my all-time favorite spring activities. Every May, I stalk the “Pick Your Own” online calendar of our favorite local farm and dream of the day when we get to gorge ourselves on fresh strawberries. This May will be our 4th year going to the same place to pick strawberries (as well as peaches, blackberries, apples and pumpkins) and I love that my kids are familiar with the orchard and the “pick our own” process. The first year we went strawberry picking, I had no idea what to expect. I felt a bit unprepared for the blazing sun, mud and entire picking process. But now that we’ve gone fruit picking a number of times, through various fruit seasons and developmental phases (the baby, toddler and preschooler stages), I feel like a pick your own expert! Here are a few recommendations and tips to ensure that your strawberry picking experience is fruitful! (see what I did there?)
1. Find a local farm & choose the right time
There’s a lot to be said about choosing the right “pick your own” farm for you and your kids. You can find most information on pick your own farms in your area with a quick internet search, or by going to pickyourown.org, where you can search farms by county (although not all local farms are listed). I highly recommend calling the farm ahead of your visit and asking about the pick your own process, busy hours, prices, etc. With little kids, choose a time that’s the least busy and works with your kids’ schedules. We like going first thing in the morning to avoid the heat and the crowds. We usually get to the farm when they open on a random weekday and we have the entire strawberry field to ourselves for an hour or so. That gives the kids plenty of time to run around without bothering others before it gets too hot mid-day.
If you’re in it for the photos, go in the evening when crowds are dying down and make good use of the golden hour in the fields. Harsh mid-day sunlight is tough when taking photos, but you can make it work. When you call the farm, also be sure to ask: (a) if the farm provides baskets or if you need to bring your own; (b) the price for fruit and if they accept credit cards (some small farms don’t); (c) if/which pesticides they use on their crops (particularly if you’re organic).
2. What to take
Strawberry picking is very fun (and very delicious), but it can be hot, sunny and muddy. Make sure you dress your kids (and yourself) appropriately in clothes that are cool enough to wear in the sun, but ok to get really (REALLY) dirty. If you go strawberry picking soon after a heavy rain, expect it to be incredibly muddy. Strawberry vines are on the ground and kids have no problem sitting, kneeling or laying down right in the mud to get the best berries. Your kids clothes and shoes might get caked in mud and covered in strawberry juice stains, so bring an extra pair of clothes for the ride home and let them wear Crocs/Natives or something that can be put in a plastic bag and then cleaned off with a hose when you get home.
Make sure to lather the kids with sunscreen before you go and reapply if you stay out in the fields for a while. Strawberries grow very close to the ground, so there’s no overhead protection from the sun. Bring along a pair a sunglasses for the kids and/or a hat. Most farms allow pickers to eat as many strawberries as they want as they pick (which is amazing!!), so unless your kids don’t like strawberries, you probably won’t need to bring snacks along, but a big bottle of water is encouraged. Good for re-hydrating and quick clean-ups on the go (also bring wet wipes).
3. Prep the kids
Don’t assume that just because your kids have eaten strawberries in the past that they’re qualified for strawberry picking. My kids had only ever seen red strawberries, but that didn’t stop them from picking all the small white/green unripe berries they could find before we had to have a quick team meeting to re-strategize and explain what was ripe to pick. Before getting in the fields, let your kids know only to pick the red strawberries and not any that are smashed, mushy (overly-ripe) or covered in mud. Most farms grow their strawberries in elevated mounds covered with a tarp that keeps the berries off the ground and out of the mud, but it never hurts to remind the kids which berries to pick and which to pass on.
Also, advise your kids to be kind to the plants – don’t step on them (step/jump over them to get to the next row), don’t pick berries you don’t intend to eat/keep, leave unripe berries on the vine and try not to crowd others. Let them know that they’re allowed to eat as many berries as they want, but encourage them to eat the entire berry once they’ve taken a bite out of it. Once you’re in the fields, there probably won’t be any bathrooms, so make sure the kids go before heading out to pick.
4. Let them run wild
Strawberry picking is a great opportunity to give your kids a bit of independence and let them do things their own way. As I mentioned above, strawberries grow low and you can see a very long way, so it’s okay to let them explore a bit on their own, rows away. Give each kid a basket and monitor their picking, but also allow them to choose berries on their own and take ownership of their baskets. Trust me, your kids will appreciate the freedom and be so proud of themselves and the strawberries they picked.
5. Enjoy your berries
If you’ve never had freshly picked strawberries straight from the vine, you are going to be blown away by how sweet, juicy and soft the berries are. Nothing like those cold rock hard berries you buy in the grocery store. The big red strawberries you bring home are going to be uber-ripe and ready for immediate consumption. Not totally necessary (unless your drive home is a beast and it’s miserable hot), but it’s never a bad idea to bring a cooler along so you can throw your strawberries on ice when you get back to the car.
Once you get home, immediately soak the berries in cold water and chill them in the fridge to keep them fresh longer. If you’re not going to be able to use/eat them right away, hull them and freeze them in Ziplock bags. The biggest/ripest berries are best eaten plain (or maybe with a little chocolate sauce or a dollop of whipped cream). Smaller/firmer berries are great for pies and jams. Frozen berries are perfect for throwing in smoothies or turning into popsicles or ice cream. The possibilities are endless!