Berries and sunshine, fields as far as you can see, little hands
dirtied from picking their own produce. If this image matches your
idea of a great summer day, plan a trek to one of the many U-Pick
farms in the area. A little prep work will ensure you are not
spending the car ride home trapped with an overheated or hungry
First, think about what you want to pick and how you will use
the buckets of produce you bring home. In June, you should be able
to pick beans, blackberries, cherries, cucumbers, herbs, squash,
strawberries and more. Starting in July, you can also find peaches,
tomatoes, blueberries, eggplant, nectarines, raspberries and
Next, pick your farm and do your homework. If you want berries
that haven't been sprayed with chemicals, ask about the farmer's
Find out admission prices and payment policies. Some farms
charge visitors fees; at others you pay for what you pick. There
also may be costs tied to the containers needed to collect your
pickings. Some farms don't have containers, expecting you to bring
Once you've selected the farm, pack a bag with wipes, towels,
water, sunscreen, bug spray and snacks. Some farms have little
shops or even restaurants where you can buy lunch. But you may want
to pack your own picnic if you have a selective eater.
On picking day, dress everyone in old clothes that can get
Many of the farmers got into this business because they like
sharing their farm with others, so they're happy to answer
questions about ripeness or demonstrate the best method for
"We really want people to feel like they possess the farm," says
Mike Owney of Grace Farm Studios in McHenry Country. "We'll show
you the ropes." He also will introduce the kids to the sheep,
llamas and chickens who call the farm home.
While the kids will learn how to pick berries or beans, the
farmers say they will leave having learned other life lessons.
For example, Grace Farm Studios operates by an honor system.
Customers pay for what they're taking by leaving money in a
Michelle Weber of Olive Berry Acres in Grundy County enjoys
seeing kids reach a new understanding about food. "Honestly, the
thing that excites me the most is kids making that connection that
their food is grown somewhere and it doesn't just come from the
Jewel," she says.
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