Hands-on Harvests By Lara Krupicka
Purple-stained fingers. Homemade apple pie. Eating more fruit than they collect. My kids love summer and fall fruit harvests. They argue over who's going to get the next batch of raspberries from our bushes. They "ooh" and "aah" over bushel baskets of apples. Each year their lives are filled with more delicious memories. How about your kids? "Well," you say, "I don't have a fruit tree or even a garden." That's OK. There are plenty of pick-your-own farms and orchards within easy driving distance of the Chicago area. And with a little planning, you and your kids could be off making (and enjoying) memories of your own.
Pick-your-own (or U-pick, as they're often called) farms and orchards abound in the Midwest. In fact, you will find quite a variety of fruits grown in each of our neighboring states.
When to go Each summer month brings a different scrumptious fruit.
• June-July: strawberries and cherries
• June-August: blueberries
• Mid-July-September: peaches
• July-October: raspberries
• September-October: grapes and apples
Most farms are a one- to two-hour drive from Chicago. Phone ahead to be sure the fruit is ready for picking. And ask for directions-these farms tend to be in hard-to-find places out in the country. This is part of the beauty of the trip. Enjoy the fresh air and wide-open country views.
What to bring Pack for a day trip and include containers for picking (smaller containers are good for smaller hands), bottles of water for drinking and sunscreen for protection. Dress in old clothes and worn sneakers-you'll be out in a field, so expect to get dirty. Wide-brimmed hats help ward off the summer sun; extra layers keep you warm in the autumn chill.
The weather could change without notice. If you get hit by a downpour, switch to Plan B and look at it as part of the whole memory-making event. Your kids will remember it as "the time we went to pick fruit and did this other fun thing instead."
Pack a picnic lunch. You'll be gone all day and all that harvesting will work up a big appetite (assuming the kids haven't already eaten their weight in strawberries). Eating sandwiches on a blanket is part of the country experience.
Don't forget the camera. You'll want to capture those memories you're making. Remember you'll be out on the farm. Think about leaving the expensive digital camcorder at home and buying a simple disposable camera for the day.
When you arrive at the farm, take some time at the start to coach your kids on how to identify and properly pick ripe fruit. Don't know yourself? The University of Illinois Extension web site has some helpful tips at www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/fresh/ fruit.html. Then remind everyone that you're there to spend time together and have fun. And since fields and orchards can be large, make sure everyone knows not to wander off on their own.
Don't think the fun has to end with just picking the fruit. Some farms also offer wagon rides, petting zoos, gift shops, even restaurants. And if your children tire before you've gotten your fill of fruit, most places also sell pre-picked produce.
Here are some kid-friendly farms within an easy drive:
Illinois Royal Oak Farm 15908 Hebron Rd. Harvard (815) 648-4141 apples, peaches, raspberries
Theis Farm Market R.R. 1, 6 N 953 County Line Road Maple Park (815) 895-9712 strawberries, raspberries
Michigan Lemon Creek Fruit Farm & Winery 533 E. Lemon Creek Rd. Berrien Springs (269) 471-1321 cherries, raspberries, peaches, apples and grapes
Stovers U-Pic & Farm Market 7608 U.S. 31 Berrien Springs (269) 471-1401 Strawberries, raspberries, cherries, peaches, nectarines, plums, apples, apricots, red and black blackberries, grapes
Tree-Mendus Fruit Farm & Country Market 9351 E. Eureka Rd. Eau Claire (269) 782-7101 (877) 863-3276 Apricots, peaches, apples, cherries
Indiana Pavolka Fruit Farm 1776 N. Wozniak Rd. Michigan City (219) 874-6056 apples, cherries, raspberries, pears, plums, grapes
Garwood Orchard 5911 W. 50 South LaPorte (219) 362-4385 apples, pumpkins
Wisconsin Apple Holler 5006 S. Sylvania Ave. Sturtevant (262) 886-8500 apples, pears, strawberries
Arrowhead Orchards 8450 S. Schroeder Rd. Beloit (608) 676-4789 apples, strawberries, blackberries, grapes, black raspberriesLara Krupicka, a freelance writer, lives with her husband and two daughters, ages 2 and 4, in Lisle.