Ready for Your U-Pick Adventure? Read This First
While many of us have been staying indoors, Mother Nature and our region’s farmers have been out there doing what they do best: growing things.
Washington and Idaho are top producers of many fruits and vegetables, and a nice perk of living in the Pacific Northwest is being able to enjoy various U-Pick experiences. During this time of heightened health concerns, many U-Pick farms are adapting to the new normal with extra safety and health measures.
To ensure your U-Pick trip is as successful as possible, read our tips to figure out how COVID-19 may change your visit, what is in season, how to find a farm that will let you harvest your favorite foods, and what to expect when you are out in the fields.
How COVID-19 Impacts Your U-Pick Visit
Even if you have visited a U-Pick farm before, some new protocols may be in place because of COVID-19 concerns.
Before you go, check each farm’s website and social media pages to find the latest COVID-19 requirements, current hours and available amenities.
You probably will be asked to wear a mask, wash your hands before entering the fields and maintain proper physical distance from other pickers. Some farms may require a reservation to ensure that the fields do not get crowded, limit group sizes, and/or assign you a section for picking. Restrooms may be closed or have limited access.
Bonus activities, such as play areas for kids and opportunities to pet or visit farm animals, may be missing. And only credit card payments may be accepted.
Find Out What Fruit Is in Season
Grocery stores make it seem like every fruit and vegetable is available year-round. But what’s in season locally will always be fresher and offer the tastiest U-Pick experience.
“Peaches are coming on right now,” says Laura Johnson of the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, in late July. “We also have berries, plums, sweet corn and flowers.”
Remember: Although a crop may be “in season,” weather can influence this season’s peak harvest time. Individual farms have online calendars and information. Check their social media pages or call ahead to find out what they have available.
How to Pick Your U-Pick
Just searching “U-Pick farms near me” may not yield the best results. Although location matters, there are many other factors to consider — like whether the farm offers organic crops, and if there are services such as snack bars and restrooms, and other activities like farm animals or play areas for kids.
Tools to help you find U-Pick farms include the searchable map on the Idaho Department of Agriculture’s Idaho Preferred and the Washington State University Farm Finder, which lets you narrow down your U-Pick options by county and product. The Tilth Alliance Farm Guide offers a good list of U-Pick options in Washington’s Puget Sound region as well.
What to Bring to U-Pick Farms
When heading out for a U-Pick adventure, bring along what you would for any short road trip: snacks and water, a full tank of gas, good directions, charged phones and gadgets, and a sense of adventure.
For comfort in the fields, bring sun and bug spray, wear a hat, and dress in light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Long sleeves and pants are advised even in hot weather to protect against bees, bugs and prickly vines.
If you may be headed to a farm that provides containers, bring along some of your own just in case you end up at another farm that does not.
Think Beyond Berries and Cherries
Beside the joy of being able to be outside while picking — and snacking on — super-fresh food, visiting a U-Pick farm is educational for kids (but don’t tell them that!) and supports the local and regional farm economy.
If you find that you have missed the picking season for your favorite berry or fruit, don’t give up. The list of what might be available for U-Pick is longer than you might think: We found listings for tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, hazelnuts and more.
“Try picking lavender for a homemade bath balm or fresh flowers for a bouquet,” says Chris McGann of the Washington State Department of Agriculture, “You could even dig your own potatoes or pick a pumpkin — there’s really no end to the fun or flavors.”
–Written by Harriet Baskas