Bay Area U-Picks: Pick a berry or a cherry
By Kathy Chin Leong

Doesn’t fruit always seems to taste better when you have harvested it yourself? More than 50 U-Pick farms in the region eagerly welcome families. Not only do kids get a healthy dose of sunshine and an education on where food comes from, teaching your children to respect nature and understand the process of growth has many applications in real life.

Be sure to take preventative measures: dress your kids accordingly with old sneakers, lather them with sunscreen, don hats, and bring bottled water to stay hydrated during picking. Bring cash to pay for your items. Bring wet wipes to wash hands.

If you are a first-timer, do caution the little ones to obey the rules of the farm, not to stomp on the produce, and to wait until purchasing the fruit before eating. You may want to call the farms ahead of time to find out whether they use pesticides. Also call for the weather report because climates around the bay are fickle from one town to the next.

What are you waiting for? Grab a basket or two, pack the kids in the car, and trek on over to these favorites. Don’t forget to bring your camera. The best photos of my kids took place long ago when we first started berry picking.

SOUTH BAY

*Gizdich Farms, 55 Peckham Rd., Watsonville. 831/722-1056. The pride of locals, Gizdich Farms is an 85-acre working ranch that grows acres of strawberries, apples, and raspberries, olallieberries, boysenberries, and blackberries. All berry picking concludes at the end of July. In September, the farm opens U-Pick apples for 3 weeks. Per pound, self-picked strawberries cost $1.25, olallies $1.55, blackberries $1.55, and raspberries $2.35.

At the center of this popular farm is its giant red barn and related historic buildings that house the bakery, antique and gift shops. Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily throughout the year, Gidzich features an outdoor picnic area, indoor seating, and sells sandwiches, fresh-pressed apple juice and cider, and an astonishing array of apple and berry pies.
 
COAST

*Phipps Ranch, 2700 Pescadero Rd., Pescadero. 650/879-0787. Located on the coastside region of Half Moon Bay, Phipps Ranch has reigned as a community institution since 1978. Hosting field trips, birthday parties and group gatherings, the U-Pick organic farm features strawberry picking through October, and olallieberry and boysenberry picking until mid-July. All berries cost $1.50 per pound. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, the ranch runs a gift shop which sells its farm grown beans, soup mixes, and gourmet foods and plants. Until mid July, the gift shop will sell fresh goose eggs.

The ranch has an outdoor picnic area with old tractors for kids to climb on. In addition, kids will fall in love with the its barnyard and petting zoo animals including ducks, geese, chickens, roosters, donkeys, rabbits, and geese. Because of the high costs of operating such a large property, the ranch charges an entrance fee of $3 per person, ages 5-59. All others are free. For photos and more info, see www.phippscountry.com .

EAST BAY

*Smith Family Farm, 4430 Sellers Ave., Brentwood. 925/625-3544; 625-5966. From May through November, this popular farm is open selling U-Pick tomatoes. The Smith family sells over 50 varieties of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash and herbs. Did you know there is even a breed of tomato that is entirely white? The Brentwood farm also sells melons, boysenberries, and other freshly picked produce and fruit. With barnyard animals on the property, the ranch is frequented often by school and church groups. Picnic tables adorn the premises so people can enjoy their home-packed lunches. See www.smithfamilyfarm.com .

*Shelly’s Garden, P.O. Box 1297, Brentwood. 925/550-6300. The six acres of farmland is bustling with activity here in Brentwood. Kids of all ages can come and pick their own sweet cherry tomatoes throughout the month of July. Meanwhile, owner Shelly McMahon grows and harvests 40 different types of organic herbs, peppers, lavender plants, and boysenberries which are sold on the property. In addition, when people call ahead they can book the small outdoor garden room and purchase Shelly’s homemade desserts. Throughout the year she offers kids activities, classes, and tours. The on-site gift shop lets visitors browse through food items as well as oils, candles, soaps and baskets.

Kids will enjoy another treat: live animals. Three gentle burros (including a baby) and a clatch of chickens wander the premises. Yes, Shelly also sells farm-fresh eggs. Families can come and use the picnic tables in shade area. In business since 1999, Shelly’s is open Friday and Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors can also call ahead to schedule time on weekdays. See her website at www.shellysgarden.com .

*Peter Wolfe Ranch, 164 Payne Ave., Brentwood. 925/634-1308.
Bay Area families make it a tradition to come to Peter Wolfe Ranch. The home of  U-pick delicious peaches, plums, loquats, and apricots, the farm provides little red wagons for children to help pull along the way as they pick fruit.

In June you can still get carries. July is peach month, and even the smallest of tykes can peaches at pick at eye level without climbing ladders. Older and braver ones can climb if they wish. The farm provides pails visitors can borrow for their picking. During the summer, the farm features peach species such as Flavorcrest, Fay Elberta and Suncrest. While there are no picnic grounds here, you can plan your day by picking first in the morning and having lunch in town afterwards. You can check the ranch’s website for the ripening times of their other fruits. Check out www.peterwolfe.com



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NOTEWORTHY WEBSITES:
*Brentwood U-Picks: www.harvest4you.com
*Peter Wolfe Ranch: www.peterwolfe.com
*Shelly’s Garden: www.shellysgarden.com
*Phipps Ranch: www.phippscountry.com
*Smith: www.smithfamilyfarm.com


Kathy Chin Leong took her nephew Mitchell to pick strawberries for the first time at Gizdich Ranch, Watsonville. He threw more berries than he picked.

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