Pick Your Own

— Written By Susan Condlin and last updated by Kay Morton

It’s that time of year again…..time for farm fresh, locally grown produce and within a couple of weeks, our area farms will have plenty to offer. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, fruits and vegetables are the foods that should be eaten most often. How much do you need? Recommended amounts vary for age and gender, but a general guideline…make fruits and vegetables about half of what you eat, every time you eat. It’s easier than you think! Aim for variety. All forms of fruits and veggies are healthy options—fresh, frozen, canned, dried, and 100% juice. To get the broadest range of nutrients, all colors are important—red, green, yellow, blue, purple, white and orange.

When making your selection think about the Sanford Farmers Market and our local “pick-your-own” farms. In recent years, the idea of picking fruits and vegetables yourself has been growing family event. The idea is simple: you go to a farm that caters to do-it-yourself pickers when a particular crop is ripe, harvest what you want and pay the farmer. You’ll find the price to be less than or comparable to what you pay in the grocery stores. But the quality and freshness is soooo much better.

While pick-your-own produce costs may be less, you do need to consider the expense of driving your car to and from the farm to determine how much you will actually save. Also consider the value of your time spent in picking, preparing, and preserving the food.

There are advantages to picking your own produce. You know you are getting the freshest produce available. You can meet the farmer and his workers who actually grew and harvested the items and you can learn how the produce was grown. A pick-your-own excursion can also be a fun-filled, inexpensive family outing and a valuable learning experience for children.

To find Lee County’s pick-your-own farms call us at Cooperative Extension or check out NCDA’s FarmFresh website at http://www.ncfarmfresh.com/. Since most pick-your-own farms advertise when their produce is ready, watch the Sanford Herald for the farm ads.

Before going to the farm you may want to call ahead to make sure of the farm’s hours, availability and if you need to provide your own containers. For peak freshness, pick early. Be sure to find out how much the farmer charges before you start picking. Often their prices are posted at the farm stand. When you have finished, the farm staff will weigh or measure your harvest and tell you how much you owe. If you are unsure how to prepare the item, ask the market staff for their recipes. They are happy to share.

When you get to the farm, don’t hesitate to ask for advice if you are not sure how to judge mature fruits and vegetables. The farmer knows it is in his best interest that you are pleased with what you pick and that you select only mature items so the immature ones will have time to ripen for the next pickers. While picking be sure to respect the farm property. Keep a watchful eye on children. Don’t let them trample rows, climb on machinery or wander toward ponds or roads. It is best to leave pets at home or in the car if it is not to hot. If you are tempted be sure to sample the produce, growers don’t mind sampling.

If you decide you don’t want to pick, the farms will often have pre-picked produce available for a bit higher price. You could also stop by the Sanford Farmers Market on Saturday mornings for fresh locally grown produce. The Sanford Farmers Market is located in downtown Sanford at Depot Park and is open from nine until noon.

This spring consider the bounty provided by our local farmers and enjoy fresh, locally grown produce. It’s good eats!

Susan Condlin is County Extension Director with North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County