The hot June sun, the clink of berries being picked into mixing bowls, and the wonderful fragrance of ripening strawberries. I associate all of those things with the onset of summer in New Hampshire. Earlier this week I got to do one of my very favorite things. My wife and I took advantage of a day off, piled in the car, and headed out in search of pick-your-own strawberries. We ended up at one of our favorite spots, Barrett Hill Farm in Mason, close to where I grew up in the Monadnock region. After an hour of steady picking, we walked away with 19 and a half pounds of delicious ripe strawberries.
There are so many reasons to love pick your own strawberries. The main one for me has always been taste. There is no comparison between the taste of a truly ripe strawberry straight from the field, and the ones that you find out of season in the grocery store, picked underripe and bred to survive the journey from California, Florida, Mexico or Chile. Why is there such a difference? A lot has to do with the breed of strawberries being grown. Farmers growing strawberries to ship across country prioritize durability, yield, size, and appearance, all traits that help maximize profit, but don’t lead to sweet and great tasting strawberries.
If you eat local strawberries, you have a much better chance that the varieties you are picking are bred for taste. You also can guarantee that they where picked at their ripest point. Some fruits like apples and melon are climateric, which means they continue to ripen after they are picked. Strawberries are non-climateric, meaning that if they were picked before they were quite ripe, so they could survive the shipping process, they will never fully ripen, sweeten, and develop that wonderful ripe strawberry smell. I finally stopped buying out-of-season grocery strawberries a few years back. After having local berries in season, I couldn’t go back. I was always disappointed. Picking strawberries at Barrett Hill Farm, we got to pick them at perfect moment. Too ripe to ship across country perhaps, but in that delicious sweet spot where their taste and sweetness is at it’s height.
There are lots of other great reasons to love pick your own strawberries, in addition to their taste and sweetness. Eating fruit and berries when they are at peak ripeness increases the health benefits you get from them. Additionally, fruits and vegetables lose nutrients (particularly vitamins) in the days after being harvested, so getting your fruits and vegetables directly from the farm allows you to eat them at their most nutritious. Pick your own is also great for the planet. Carbon dioxide emissions are a by-product of our current food system that favors shipping produce across the country and around the globe. California grows 80% of U.S strawberries, and isn’t exactly next door. Eating strawberries grown in-state instead of those trucked in from the west coast is definitely the greener option.
Pick your own can also be great for local farmers. It helps farmers to eliminate harvesting, storing, processing and shipping costs. It also helps bring people out to spend time on local New Hampshire farms. People may decide to buy other farm products while visiting for pick your own. My wife and I are a perfect example of that, as we ended up buying eggs and beef in addition to our strawberries at Barrett Hill Farm. The best assurance of quality and good practices is for us as consumers to know our farmers and visit local farms.
Finally, picking your own strawberries is just a great way to spend time with friends and family. It’s an opportunity to get out of the house, visit a beautiful farm, and enjoy being outside. It’s a wonderful activity to do with kids, and is a great way to help them learn where their food comes from. If you haven’t done it, I wholeheartedly recommend giving it a try. You are in for a treat! If you have, you know what a joy it can be. Strawberry season runs early June into mid July (depending on the weather), so be sure not to miss it!
To find a place for pick your own strawberries, visit pickyourown.org/NH or the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture pick your own listing.