I had heard of other people strawberry picking. It sounded like fun. I had imagined the photographs we would take as I listened to friends describe their experience. My vision was the whole family wearing stylish yet practical clothes, in a quiet field plucking plump strawberries and laughing. Since no one had ever been strawberry picking our first experience didn’t match this exact vision. We were not appropriately dressed and strangely opted to not take the hayride so my husband and I had blisters due to our stylish shoes. We didn’t bring suntan lotion which resulted in a sunburn by the end of the day. Our strawberries were tiny and depressed. It was an experience.
Jersey is the Garden State and filled with plenty of farms that offer different crops, produce, and activities. The great news is that our first experience will be something we definitely remember (and yes we will cherish that interesting day) but it also means that we have more opportunities to hit farms again. I am still a novice at strawberry picking, apple picking, and pumpkin picking. Here are some tips that I have collected that hopefully you can use.
Tips for Pick Your Own Farms in New Jersey
Call Before You Go:
Some websites that list farm locations can be inaccurate about what the farm offers as I have learned from personal experience. Double check the farm’s website or call them. Also, the weather can impact whether the produce is ready. For example, this year we had a long winter which has delayed or shortened some of the strawberry picking. Some farms are very good about updating their Facebook pages while others may not. You can also verify what the price per pound is when you check on their website or call as that can also impact your decision which farm to visit.
This may be difficult for a first trip. Investigate online or ask when you get to the farm, how to identify the fruit that is ready to be picked. Demonstrate several times to your children and let them roam (appropriately based on their age) and find their own fruits or vegetables. However, it is wise to check the baskets handed to your children before you leave the field as they may become enthusiastic pickers and grab some rotten fruit.
Some farms will allow you to use your own container while others insist that their containers are used. If you use your own container, they will weigh it beforehand and after the picking is done. The farms can charge for their containers however I have not visited a farm that the cost was excessive.
Know what the goal for the trip is going to be. For example, we are a family that does not make jams or pies, so our recent strawberry picking excursion meant that we only picked a pint for each family member. The bad news: no strawberry jam or compote. The good news: all our strawberries have been eaten and thoroughly enjoyed. Our apple picking excursion involved pounds of apples that eventually were converted into apple sauce. Know what the end goal is so that you don’t spend money on produce that will go bad if unused.
Most days you will feel inspired to explore a farm it will be beautiful which by definition means sunny. Have water ready and available. Bring your own to save money but not too much water as you do have to carry it.
It is common for us to envision a hayride at the farm. Some farms have them and others don’t. Some farms offer free hayrides, while others charge. Some sell tickets for other events and will throw in the hayride if you purchase the package which brings me to my next item you should be aware.
The Unexpected Extras:
Most local farms are expanding their business by incorporating new features. For some farms, there may be an additional cost for your kids to enjoy an activity or they may sell tickets or bracelets at a flat price with various packages of what activities are included. I like both options. However, depending on my purpose for the trip it will impact which farm I may choose. If I have unlimited time and plan on spending the entire day, I may opt for a farm that sells a package which includes pony rides, tractor rides, etc. It is important to know what items are included and which ones are not (which goes back to my first suggestion: call before you go). If they have a petting zoo, they may sell food for the animals. If you are thirsty, they will sell water. If you are hungry, they may sell food. Essentially, farms can sell many things which can cost you more than you budgeted. On the bright side, they sell so much that if you need water, they will have it. But, as I have learned, don’t expect suntan lotion, which brings me to…
It is very tempting to dress the family in cute and stylish clothes for photographs, however farms are dirty. Dress like a farmer. Wear comfortable and covered shoes. During this year’s trip, I wore flip-flops to go strawberry picking. It had rained the day before and despite the straw on the ground my feet hit a few muddy spots. You may want to dress your toddler in a cute outfit so that the pictures taken could be used for holiday cards, but once they eat one strawberry they will then want to eat them all (and they will not be neat about it).
Respect the Farm’s Rules
“Pick Your Own” farms are small businesses that support families. Respect their rules.
On beautiful days, expect crowds. We try and eat lunch early before the lines form and then hit the fields. Ask how far the fields are from the activities so that you are making an informed decision if you decide to skip the hay ride.
What to Bring (some suggestions but make sure to keep it light):
- Suntan Lotion
- Bug spray (I have seen mini size ones that fit in a purse)
- Thermal tote
- Wipes (for those who still need them)
- Hand sanitizer
Seasons are short so make sure to take advantage of the sunny days by visiting a local farm. Enjoy the weather, the smell of dirt and fresh fruit, and each other’s company.