Nothing heralds the turn of the season quite like the sudden abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. As the days lengthen, nature comes alive. Bright red tomatoes ripened on the vine, fragrant bunches of herbs, sweet berries dripping with juice – these are the sensory experiences that awaken us to the shifting seasons.
In Ontario, each season brings with it it’s own delicious produce. On the farmers’ market tables in early spring you’ll find hardy, overwintered greens like kale and spinach. Soon after, asparagus arrives in abundance for a few short weeks of grilling and salads. The long, red-tinged rhubarb stalks are the first fruits ready to be sweetened into crumbles and pies. As the weather warms, the diversity of crops increases. By june, you will find sweet peas, beets, green beans and my personal favourite – strawberries!
This year, the last week of spring felt as hot as summer so on a sunny Saturday my sister and I headed into the countryside. A day of strawberry picking at an agritourism farm followed by a family BBQ was a perfect way to celebrate the remaining days of spring.
We visited Brooks Farms, an agritourism destination located in Mount Albert, about an hour outside of the city. This functional farm is geared towards tourists with activities for all ages. In addition to fields of fruits and vegetables, the farm also has a store with pre-picked produce & baked goods, a picnic area, a kids activity land and a mini train!
The star of the farm on our visit in late June is without a doubt the U-Pick strawberry fields. Out in the fields we could see families, couples and even a few foreign visitors all enjoying a visit to the farm. I liked overhearing parents explaining to this children the basics of how food is grown and how delicious healthy produce can be. Unfortunately, this farm was not organic and it’s primary mission was not to educate the masses about the importance of the local farm economy. However, the simple act of being on the farm allowed visitors to reconnect with nature and appreciate the seasonality of the crops. This gave me a little glimmer of hope for the future of food.
A Locavore’s How To: Picking Strawberries
The How To of Picking Strawberries is very easy! The most important part is choosing the right establishment. Do some online research to find a farm that offers U-Pick fields within driving distance from where you live. If you have kids, finding a farm with additional activities is a great idea. Ideally, you can find a farm that is family-owned and offers certified organic produce.
Step 1: Plan ahead. Pick a farm that offers the activities and products that are important to you. Pack a lot of water, a hat and sunscreen. Bring your own containers to reduce waste and save money.
Step 2: Choose a part of the field slightly away from the crowd so the berries won’t be picked over. Carefully move the leaves and stems when you pick as it is important that you don’t damage the plant. Only pick the best berries, leave the ones that aren’t ripe yet for the next picker. Don’t be afraid to pick the small ones as they are often sweetest! Watch your children carefully as they may inadvertently damage the plants.
Step 3: Take your picked berries to the scale for weighing. We were surprised to learn that they accepted credit & debit, but be prepared to pay cash. U-pick berries can be as little as half the price of pre-picked berries so you may want to consider picking a bundle and sharing them with family or preserving them in jams or pies. Optional but recommended, say thank you to your local farmers for their hard work. It’s not an easy job being a farmer!
Step 4: Be sure to wash the berries before eating, especially if not organic. It is best if you wash them just prior to eating as pre-washed berries will go mushy. If you picked fully ripe berries, you have about 48 hours to eat them before they start to go off so consider freezing extras.
Step 5: Gorge yourself silly on the abundance of the season!
What fruits or vegetables are in season right now in your part of the world?
Now It’s Your Turn! Enjoy food at it’s best by shopping according to the season. Many regional agricultural groups offer seasonality guides to help you in your shopping, like this one for Ontario. Fresh, local food is more cost-effective, more nutritious and better for the environment. Plus it tastes WAY BETTER! What more could you ask for? Subscribe here to follow along as I share more of my Adventures in Food!