6/13/2013 - When it comes to fresh produce in June, strawberries are a popular choice — as a food and an activity — as farms welcome visitors to their fields for some hands-on berry picking.
Among the farms opening fields for picking is Applecrest Farm Orchards in Hampton Falls, which has offered pick-your-own strawberries for more than 20 years. Farm owner Todd Wagner said strawberry picking is an experience like no other.
“I think there’s something so attractive about the color, the super-ripe red,” he said. “I mean, they’re gorgeous.The texture is kind of this lush, juicy, super sweet but sometimes kind of tangy. It’s just good in so many ways.”
What brings the public to local farms to pick the freshest berries is the array of ways the fruit can be enjoyed, Wagner said.
“You can put them in desserts, you can put them in salads, you can grill them, you can dip them in chocolate, you can eat them plain, have them in pancakes, in muffins and breads and croissants,” he said, adding that his daughter often uses the berries to make a strawberry soup. “They’re just so versatile.”
At Applecrest, the strawberry season generally runs from the middle of June to the first week in July. This year, Wagner said, the season has been flourishing later than usual.
“It was a very late winter, late spring, very cool, and that retards the growing season a little bit,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of maintenance, and we’re ready for a great season.”
Despite the late start, Wagner said the height of the season comes and goes quickly.
“I always encourage people not to wait,” he said. “If picking strawberries has been a part of your summer since you were a kid, and you want to take your own kids, don’t wait. Get out while the getting is good.”
Another farm offering pick-your-own strawberries is Apple Hill Farm in Concord. Owners Diane and Chuck Souther have been inviting the community to pick their own fruit since 1995. Because strawberries are the first fresh fruit of the season, Diane Souther said customers frequently come to pick their own berries and save them for later.
“Many of our customers freeze them or make jams [to last] all year with them. Many eat them fresh in shortcakes and on ice cream. Many just enjoy them with nothing added for the healthiest eating,” she wrote in an email.
Similar to Applecrest, Apple Hill Farm’s strawberry-picking season usually begins in mid-June and extends through the beginning of July. Souther, who has been working on the farm since its establishment in 1978, said the challenge for farmers comes not in prepping the strawberries for the picking, but in preparing for the impact once they are picked.
“We always know how many berries we have to pick,” Souther said. “However, we can never judge how many consumers come to pick or how many pounds each will pick.”
Still, Souther and her husband work to make berry picking an easy and enjoyable experience for their consumers.
“We stagger the hours so we always try to have good pickings. But it is always hard to promise excellent picking because of all the variables,” she said, noting unpredictable weather and berry ripeness as such variables. “But that’s the nature of farming; you need to take the good and enjoy, and overlook the bad when it happens.”