10 Tips for Berry Picking With Kids
by Katie Beltramo
Berry picking is a delicious adventure that helps children understand where their food comes from and yields plenty of sweetness to share. It can also be challenging, requiring some diligence and patience. Here are a few tips to help you have plenty of fun with your berries.
1. Berry farms aren't the supermarket.
Even when local farms have picking schedules posted on their website, it's often best to call ahead, because conditions change quickly. Sometimes a rush of people will pick the place bare or weather will make previous estimates iffy. Some farms will have a mechanism in place frequent updates, like a "berry hotline," an email list, or a Facebook page. If you have a local favorite, make sure that they know you want to hear about it when the berries are ripe.
2. Know when to go.
Pick the chilliest day possible or start early, because it always feels like you’re baking in the sun. If you’re a stay-at-home parent, this is your chance to enjoy an activity that will definitely be quieter on a weekday than on the weekend--as long as the farm is open on a weekday. Fabulous, right?
3. Plan for sun.
Berries grow well in sunny locations, so you'll want to wear sunscreen and bring hats. In fact, put sunscreen on before you drive to the farm, so that it has a chance to soak in. That way, it won't get all over your delicious berries.
4. Bring extra baskets or plastic bags.
Almost any pick-your-own place will provide containers, but some make you pay for the container itself separately. If you’re going with multiple children and you don’t want to buy multiple quarts of berries, it’s nice to have extra containers because of course every child wants to hold their own container. As containers begin to fill up, consolidate the berries into another container that is sitting on the ground. Otherwise, of course, your child will drop the whole thing as soon as it’s completely full.
5. Bring supplies for kids who need to take a break.
A blanket or towel to sit on is essential, and snacks and water or a picnic lunch (if allowed by the farm) are lovely, too. A sling or carrier for the littlest ones is a great option to have, with bonus points if you've perfected the transfer from sling to shady blanket. If you have multiple children with you, bring a couple of books (check out our berry books!). Because someone will be sick and tired of picking while another child will be passionately devoted to removing every last berry from the bushes in her row.
6. Prepare your pickers.
Spend the drive to the farm reminding your child(ren) of all the rules because it will be difficult to focus once you arrive and see all those glorious berries. Nice reminders: Strawberries and raspberries should be red, blueberries should be blue (expect to repeat this instruction roughly two hundred times, and offer up specific examples). Bees won’t bother you if you don’t bother them, so don’t swat. Don’t eat the berries until they’re home and washed. Or, don’t eat the berries without checking with Mom first. Or, eat one berry for every ten picked. Or, don’t obviously smear your entire face with berries directly in front of someone who works at the farm. Seriously, some berry-eating along the way is part of the charm, but if your children are eating quite a bit, plan to add a couple of bucks extra onto your total when you pay at the end. Because we all want to support local farms, right?
7. Easy kitchen projects are part of the fun.
Kids love to cook with their harvest, and you can cede control to them almost completely by just letting them make a simple tart. The easiest, most non-cooking option here is to supply some prepared pie crust, powdered sugar, and whipped cream in a can. Let the the kids fold berries into pie crust tarts, then sprinkle them with sugar and/or dollop with whipped cream. Other favorites at our house are adding berries to homemade ice pops and smoothies. Delicious.
8. The berries won’t last long.
Chances are, they'll be eaten quickly. But if your pickers were more diligent than hungry, keep in mind that these berries won’t stay nice for as long as the rough-and-ready (and, let's be clear: inferior) varieties you'll buy at a supermarket. It’s simplest to freeze: Just rinse the berries, gently pat them dry, and lay them on a pan in a freezer for a couple of hours. Then transfer them to a sealable plastic bag.
9. Plan your next berry fix.
Did everyone have fun? Then mark your calendar for the estimated date of the next crop of berries, consider planting a berry bush in your yard, or point out a new kind of berry or fruit that your child might want to taste the next time you visit a local market. You've given them a taste of berryliciousness.
10. Bond over a Berry Book.
There's always a way to incorporate reading into any adventure. Read these books about berries before, during, and after the experience to connect the fun of a hands-on activity to the joy of reading.
Jamberry, by Bruce Degan
Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey
The Berry Book, by Gail Gibbons
Berry Magic, by Teri Sloat
© 2014 KidsOutAndAbout.com
Katie Beltramo, a mom of two, is KidsOutAndAbout's Albany editor and also blogs at Capital District Fun.