If you love berries, then Oregon is the perfect place to live in the summertime. You can buy ripe berries at local farm stands, farmer’s markets, and even your neighborhood grocery store. During our first summer in Oregon, we discovered that you could also pick your own berries at U-Pick farms across the state and go home with bowls and buckets full of sweet, ripe fruit. Many of these farms are just getting ready to open for the season.
A good resource to find a U-Pick farm near you is Pick your Own. They have farm options listed by county and have links to farm websites and social media accounts. They also have information on when each berry should be in season and whether farms are pesticide-free or organic. Another resource is Tri-County Farm Fresh which has information on farms in Washington, Multnomah, and Clackamas. Their list is extensive but may have missed a farm in your area that is smaller, so keep your eye out while driving and ask around. We found our favorite farm from word of mouth and found a new one by driving by last summer.
Once you have found a farm you want to visit, here are a few tips to make your day at the farm more successful. First, bring a hat and wear sunscreen. A sunburn and the summer heat can quickly cut a berry picking trip short. Bring some water for the same reason. You will also want to wear shoes and clothes that can get dirty. Strawberry fields are quite dusty, and ripe berries will inevitably get smushed or dropped on clothing, leaving stains.
It is also important to bring a bowl or bucket to collect your berries. Some farms have specific containers to use, but most allow you to bring your own. Our farm weighs our bowls before we get started, which is a good reason to always check in with the farm stand first. The farm stand attendant will also have good advice on which rows have been picked over and which berries are the ripest.
Before you get started, take a second to explain to your kids what a ripe berry looks and feels like. For example, ripe berries will almost fall off the stem when you pick them. If you have to yank at them, they are not ready. Next, describe the color you want for that particular fruit. Ripe strawberries are red, blueberries are blueish purple, raspberries are a deep red, and so on. This might seem redundant, but young kids especially cannot tell the difference between a berry that is ready, one that needs more time to grow, and one that is rotten. You will not want to get to the end and find your child’s bucket full of hard, unripened fruit. Remind them not to pick up berries that are on the ground as well.
Now that you are ready to pick, it is time to find your favorite berry. Strawberries are the first berry crop of the summer growing season. They start at the end of May and go through June. That means farms, such as Columbia Farms U-Pick on Sauvie Island, are getting ready to open soon. Have a plan in mind before you pick your strawberries. They will break down after a day or two on the counter but will last longer in the refrigerator. We love to make strawberry shortcake and freeze some for smoothies.
Raspberries are the next berry crop and are ripe in mid-June and July. Most farms will have various raspberry plants to choose from, such as Smith Berry Barn in Hillsboro, which has five different options. It is fun to find the one you like best or mix varieties for more flavor. Like the Cascade Harvest raspberry, some are sweet-tart and best for fresh eating, while the Tulameen has a non-traditional flavor and is good for processing and freezing.
Members of the blackberry family, including the boysenberry and marionberry, are ready starting in late June and ripen through August. The marionberry was developed in Western Oregon in 1956 and is a cross between two other blackberries. This popular variety now makes up almost half of the blackberries in Oregon. Boones Ferry Berry Barn in Hubbard has marionberries and six other blackberries to choose from if you are looking for this particular berry.,
Blueberries are the last to ripen and are ready in early July. These berries can last the longest in the refrigerator before going bad and are great to snack on. Check with the farm stand if they have more than one type so you know which are best to eat fresh and which will freeze well. Farms, such as Hazen’s Riverside Blueberry Farm in Coquille, often have great recipe ideas to help use your crop. Hazen’s suggests making a fresh blueberry crumble with their berries.
Berry picking is a wonderful activity for the whole family, from toddlers, barely big enough to hold a bucket, to teenagers. It is a good chance for everyone to help and learn how fruit grows and is harvested. We always have to keep an eye on our littlest to make sure that more berries make it into the bucket than his mouth, but he loves being independent and helping, and our older children love competing to see who can pick the most. Make a trip to your local U-Pick farm a part of your summer traditions. The berries are sweeter, cost less, and become a good memory for everyone.