Want fresh? Pick it yourself at local Arkansas farms | Rock Candy

Friday, May 31, 2013

Want fresh? Pick it yourself at local Arkansas farms

Posted By on Fri, May 31, 2013 at 8:37 AM


This time of year is particularly wonderful for those who like to eat local, Arkansas produce. Luckily, there's no shortage of spectacular farmer's markets around central Arkansas with local growers and other specialty vendors making weekly appearances. Making these markets part of our regular shopping excursions has been a real pleasure, indeed, it's one particular aspect of Arkansas that I've found most unique and special. But recently, we've discovered another opportunity to acquire fresh produce that, while requiring a bit more effort, has been a real joy for my small family—the "U-pick It" produce farms.

These farms operate on a seasonal basis, and currently it's prime time for strawberries...and honestly, is there anything more simple and beautiful than an Arkansas strawberry? Those who've tasted them know there’s no better berry on the planet.

Over the last couple weeks, my wife and I have dragged our two children out to Cabot to visit two strawberry patches, the Mountain High Patch and the Cabot Patch. The two farms are owned by Larry High and family and both offer a really enjoyable morning of berry picking for anyone looking to get outside and grab some of Arkansas's finest. The experience is simply run and not extravagant in the least. You pull up to the small cabin store, let them know you're there for berry picking, and they provide you with a small bucket to gather your spoils into. They'll take you out to their strawberry patches and point you to the rows that have been designated for that day's harvesting. Then you just dive right in. You pick for how ever long you please, as much as you please, moving up and down the long rows of strawberry plants in hunt of the biggest, reddest, most gorgeous berries in the field.

It's an experience that just about anyone can enjoy, regardless of age—I haven't actually picked a fruit or vegetable off a plant for probably over 10 years, and there was something oddly rewarding about gathering your own fruit (without having to go through the hassle of planting, pruning, and fertilizing). But the U-Pick It concept is particularly thrilling for children. Our 2-year old son was completely absorbed in the whole process. It was a joy to teach him a bit about where our food comes from, allowing him to meet the farmers running the fields, and explaining to him what a ripe versus unripe berry looks like.

One of the greatest aspects of U-Pick It farming is the price. You will absolutely not find a better price on berries and produce than by harvesting it yourself. At these two patches, strawberries will only run you $2.15 per pound—we filled an entire bucket, a sizable haul weighing in at over 5 lbs, and the whole thing cost us less than $12. That's a fraction of what you'll pay for far inferior product at the supermarket.

But U-Pick It farming doesn't end with strawberries. There's a whole world of produce just waiting for you to get your grubby paws on it. Check out these wonderful websites, pickyourown.org and Arkansas.com, for a great list of farms offering this DIY produce harvesting. Currently, it's only the beginning of most of these farm's harvest, and these sites explains what's being harvested, at what time, at what farm. While strawberries are a hot item right now, soon we'll be seeing the coming of peaches, blackberries, raspberries, squash, apples, plums, nectarines, peas, watermelons, and tomatoes. I'd definitely suggest calling ahead before you go off picking to confirm that the produce you're after is actually available that day, and be aware that many of these places are cash or check only—don't go expecting there to be an ATM anywhere nearby. Additionally, there's not much in the way of refreshment at these farms, so bring along some beverages if you plan on picking in the heat of mid-day.

Don't let yourself go through the entire growing season without partaking in some of the wonderful products we have surrounding us throughout Arkansas. The U-Pick It farms are a splendid way to spend a morning and it's guaranteed you'll not find fresher produce anywhere in the world.

(The Cabot Patch is located at 500 Mt Carmel Rd, Cabot. 8 am-6 pm. 501-605-1313.

The Mountain High Patch is located at 1000 E. Justice Rd, Cabot. 8 am-noon. 501-983-8881.)

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