Are you thinking about loading up the family for a u-pick produce experience? Read all about the ways u-pick produce opportunities align with your green living goals!
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Growing up, my parents would load my sister and me into the car and go trolling the backroads for u-pick produce opportunities. After several hours, we’d return to our rental in a car filled to the brim with u-pick blueberries, blackberries, or peaches. The next step was probably my favorite, quality time with mom in the kitchen making blueberry muffins, jam that never quite set right, or tasty desserts.
Today, I do the same thing with my husband and nieces and nephews, and I’ve quickly learned there are exactly three types of u-pickers in this world: The eater (my husband, covered in blueberry juice), the complainer (my sister, huddled under her oversized floppy hat and swatting at anything with wings), and the nostalgic enthusiast (everyone else in my family).
Why do people love u-pick produce? I have to imagine good old-fashioned fun and family bonding are at the top of the list. As I wandered the rows of u-pick blackberries at Justus Orchard today, I couldn’t help smiling at all the multi-generational groups of people sharing memories, picking tips, and jokes as they soaked up the summer sunshine.
But, as an environmentalist forever pursuing green living, there are many other, more practical reasons to love an afternoon wandering a u-pick produce field!
What to Bring for U-Pick Produce Outing
Sun-protective clothing and sunscreen are u-pick essentials, along with a reusable water bottle and something to transport your haul. If you’re bringing home something fragile, like blackberries, strawberries, or blueberries, you may want to pack a cooler for your harvest if you plan to stop anywhere for lunch on the way home. Hot berries mean soon-to-spoil berries, y’all.
Additionally, it’s easy to get carried away and accidentally pick 10 gallons of blueberries. Game plan what you’ll do with your berries before you go. Do you need to clean out the freezer to create space for your delicious haul? Do you have a pie, cobbler, or jam recipe handy to make use of all the local produce?
Alternatively, are you going to gift the excess to friends? If so, don’t miss this post with lots of ideas about how to find elegant gifts (and gorgeous gift containers) at thrift stores. A thrifted vintage dish or pitcher of seasonal berries would make an amazing gift!
9 Reasons To Love U-Pick Produce for Green Living
Reduce your food miles.
Did you know the average meal in America travels 1,500 miles in refrigerated, gas-guzzling vehicles before reaching your table? That pales in comparison to the 8.2 miles I drove for my giant bucket of u-pick blueberries and the 13 miles I went for today’s haul of vine-ripened, delicious blackberries.
Even if your local u-pick opportunity is a little outside your city limits, the environmental impact of driving your crew to the farm and back pales in comparison to the amount of energy used in creating packaging materials and transporting the produce in refrigerated vehicles across the country (or the world).
Enjoy truly zero waste produce.
As someone with green living goals, this benefit of u-pick produce is my favorite. Produce doesn’t get more zero waste than a u-pick harvest. The farm will likely provide buckets or baskets to assist them in measuring or estimating how much fruit you’ve picked.
If you bring a bag, basket, or box to carry the produce home, the entire experience generates ZERO packaging waste, zero recycling, and zero pesky produce stickers. You can use any container you already have or buy something secondhand if you anticipate using it regularly. Also, don’t forget you could borrow a perfect produce container from a neighbor or through your local Buy Nothing group if you just need it once or twice.
Seasonal eating is a big step on the way to green living, and what’s a more fun way to learn to eat seasonally than popping juicy, sun-ripened berries into your mouth that you harvested yourself? A seasonal diet eases the strain on the environment by consuming plants and vegetables during their natural growth cycles.
You’ll also get to enjoy fruit that’s naturally vine-ripened and at the peak of its flavor. Most produce at traditional grocery stores is harvested before it’s ripe at farms on the other side of the planet. There’s even some evidence to suggest that seasonally harvested fruits and vegetables are more nutrient-dense than their organically and “conventionally” grown cousins.
Support small farms.
Small farms face many challenges in today’s big agriculture-driven world, and they can use a little extra love. When you head out to the local u-pick blackberry patch or blueberry farm, you get a chance to get to know your farmer and you’re taking some of the labor strain (and expense) of harvest off of the farm.
You may also be surprised by who your farmer is. When I was harvesting u-pick blueberries at Trickle Creek Farm in Lake Lure, North Carolina, I picked berries alongside the owner, who happens to be an interior designer in Hendersonville. She and her family are third-generation owners of the farm that her grandfather started.
I also learned that Trickle Creek Farm donates all of its unpicked harvests at the end of the season to a non-profit group. Volunteers pick the fruit and take it to local food banks and shelters. What a beautiful way to give back to our community!
Related Reading: 9 Environmental and Economic Reasons To Support Local Business
Learn to prevent food waste and preserve your harvest.
Food waste is a massive issue in the United States. In fact, approximately one-third of the food produced in the United States is never eaten and is discarded as food waste. When you spend your Saturday hand-picking that food, however, you tend to value it much more highly than whatever you absentmindedly grabbed at the store.
Many people’s first forrays into canning or making jam stem from their u-pick experiences, and the sheer volume of one type of fruit or vegetable requires that you spend some time thinking about how to preserve, save, or efficiently consume your harvest before spoiling. Handmade jam makes a fantastic gift or stocking stuffer as well, so file that away as you roll up your sleeves in the kitchen.
Note: Are you eyeing that giant pile of blackberries with a bit of anxiety? You’ll find a quick tutorial at the bottom of this post about how to easily freeze berries so you can use a cup at a time without thawing the whole harvest.
Learn where your food comes from.
Do you know what food grows in your region of the country? U-pick produce is typically a crop that performs really well in that area, and it’s a fun way to get to know your state’s agricultural prowess.
Learning what grows well in your area can also guide your future backyard garden and help you make more informed choices about what produce to buy at the store. Finally, it’s also enjoyable to see what a mature fruit-yielding tree or bush looks like. I had no idea one apple tree or blueberry bush could yield so much food.
Learn more about micro-climates.
Have you ever wondered why your friend two neighborhoods over is swimming in ripe tomatoes while yours are still green? Micro-climates are fascinating and have an enormous impact on the success or failure of a crop, as well as determining when and how quickly they ripen. Don’t be surprised if the u-pick fields in your area aren’t all on the same timeline!
Enjoy the great outdoors.
One of the most motivating factors in pursuit of your green living goals is remembering why you love Mother Nature so much in the first place. Spend a day soaking up the sunshine while harvesting delicious, perfectly ripe fruits of the land with your loved ones. You can’t help but feel more connected to the land… and each other.
Save some money.
U-pick blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, and apples are often considerably cheaper than what’s available in stores. They are also fresher, so they’ll keep longer!
Making greener choices is not always easy on your wallet, unfortunately, so I love to point out budget-friendly eco-friendly choices whenever possible. My haul of 5.5 pounds (an estimated 88 ounces) of blueberries costs $17, which works out to $0.19 an ounce. An 18-ounce package of conventional (non-organic) blueberries at the grocery store would currently cost me $7, which works out to $0.38 per ounce.
How to Freeze U-pick Berries Without Them Sticking Together
Have you ever battled it out with an enormous ice block of frozen berries, only to find yourself pulverizing the package with a meat tenderizer in a full-blown smoothie-making snit? This one’s for you.
After buying your u-pick berries home, give them a good soak. If you’re so inclined, give them an extra rinse! Then you need to dry your berries at least partially. I’m a big fan of piling them in a colander (like this colander made of recycled plastic) or salad spinner basket, covering the top with a dishcloth or cloth napkin, and letting them chill in the fridge overnight.
Once the berries have dried a bit (they’ll probably still be moist or have some water droplets, this is fine), arrange them in a single layer on a metal pie tin or baking sheet, if it will fit in your freezer.
You’ll likely need to work in batches. Once the berries are frozen, lightly loosen them from the pan and pile them up in an airtight container. You could bags like these reusable and flexible gallon bags or these compostable plastic gallon bags that are great for storing food in small spaces. You can wash and reuse both of these bags many times. If you prefer something sturdier, these plastic-free storage containers or any old Tupperware container are great options too.
You can now scoop your berries out as needed for recipes without the dreaded battle-of-the-berry-block.
All photos via Reese Moore Photography
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About the Author
Reese Moore is a photographer, content creator, and pickle connoisseur who divides time between Charleston and Lake Lure. When she’s not behind the lens shooting stunning images for Reese Moore Photography, Reese loves to spend her time wandering the woods with her dog Gatsby or adventuring with her husband Logan in their Airstream Basecamp.