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Pick-Your-Own Farm Guide for Families

Family Guide to Farm Fun

Spring for my family means at least one trip to a farm for pick-your-own fruit. We’ve been going for fresh-picked sweet berries since my two teens were toddlers. It’s been a family tradition for years to make the trek to Surry for strawberries in May and blueberries in June. But we don’t stop there. Autumn never passes without a day trip to Charlottesville to pick apples (and, of course, savor apple cider doughnuts!). No matter the season, there’s a farm in Virginia where you can pick your own fruits and vegetables.

In the age of COVID-19, families continue to look for outdoor fun, and these experiences are more popular than ever since they provide that and much more in a safe, socially distant environment. Like our family, West End mother of two Caitlyn Huffstutter enjoys the drive from Richmond to Surry for berry picking at College Run Farms in the spring and pumpkin picking in the fall. She also looks forward to blueberry picking and peach picking in the summer at other regional farms with her kids.

“We loved going to pick-your-own farms even before COVID as a chance to get some fresh air and teach our kids about where our food comes from. But now, with COVID, it is also one of the safest family-friendly activities,” she says. Huffstutter connects the farm experience to the table by letting her kids find recipes that incorporate the fruits they will pick together. “We make pies with our blueberries from Blue Eden Farm and a homemade blueberry jam,” she says.

At our house, strawberry jam is my favorite to make with the kids, but we also use the fruit we pick for smoothies, soups, baked goods, and of course, healthy snacking. Berries are also easy to freeze to enjoy later when they are out of season, and everyone knows the farm-fresh versions taste so much better than canned berries.

Lots of Farms to Explore

For many children, heading out to a pick-your-own farm turns out to be much more than just spending quality time with the family.

“The experience of visiting a farm and harvesting your own food is a fun and educational opportunity,” says Jordan Berryman, owner of College Run Farms. “Many children have only seen their food sourced from the grocery store, so it is enlightening for them to see how and where their food is grown and also take part in the harvesting process.”

College Run Farms typically hosts hundreds of families each weekend during the fall for pumpkin picking. In addition to the fresh-picked fruit, visitors can’t resist their homemade seasonal ice cream made from their harvest. This year, the farm will be open for pick-your-own blueberries in the summer and pumpkins in the fall. 

Parenting experts, nutritionists, and pediatricians agree, it’s important for children to know that food doesn’t come from a can or a plastic bag. The more time you spend at a farm, the more time you have to ask questions of farmers and other agricultural workers about their methods for growing, the use of fertilizers or herbicides, or if their produce is organic. Some pick-your-own farms have other fruits and vegetables available for sale as well.

Locally, families can pick their own blueberries at Blue Eden Farm; peaches, nectarines, and apples at Hanover Peach Orchard; pumpkins at Lloyd Family Farm; and strawberries and pumpkins at Chesterfield Berry Farm. Chesterfield Berry Farm is also introducing sunflowers this summer. (See page 38 for a complete resource.)

Gallmeyer Farms here in Richmond is also known for its strawberries and pumpkins and has seen an uptick in business due to the pandemic. 

“Pick-your-own is very popular, especially in the current climate,” says Tammy Brackett, public relations manager for Gallmeyer Farms. “People are happy to get out of their homes and wrap themselves in nature.”

Gallmeyer Farms also carries unpasteurized honey and has a vegetable stand featuring produce from its own grounds and other small family-owned farms. The bounty includes summer staples such as blackberries, blueberries, butterbeans, corn, squash, and tomatoes. The farm also has a wildflower walk for families with six trails of blossoms growing in the fields. Like other farms, families can also take a hayride or wander through a hay-bale maze in the fall to enhance their adventure.

In addition to fruits and vegetables, families can pick their own herbs and flowers at farms across Virginia. Tulips and daffodils are available in the spring while herbs like lavender are harvested in early summer. 

Benefits for Your Family and Farm Families

Pick-your-own farms are beneficial for many reasons.
A visit to a farm can save you money since you aren’t paying for added costs for others to pick, package, ship, and shelf products. Buying in bulk also tends to be cheaper than buying in small quantities. Fruits and vegetables straight from a farm are also fresher and more nutritious. And perhaps most significantly, you are supporting small local businesses. 

“There is nothing quite like the taste of a piece of fruit you can pick from a tree and eat right then and there,” says Brian Campbell with Hanover Peach Orchard. “There is no comparison. Going to a pick-your-own farm gets you out in the sunshine and in the fresh air. Little kids can be involved as well. They get to have their own bags, they can reach the trees, and pick their own fruit. Everything is fresh and that really counts.”

Forest Hill mother of two Alison McCormick agrees. McCormick relishes going to pick-your-own farms with her 9-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son.

“The first time we went apple picking at Carter Mountain, my daughter was four and she took a bite out of each apple before putting it in the basket,” McCormick shares with a laugh. “It’s a fun outside activity for your family. I also love to bake with the fruits we pick and make jams, but we end up eating a lot of the fruits too because they are so good.”

Bakers out there – and we know your numbers have increased since the start of the pandemic – have plenty of crops to choose from, especially in the fall when the weather cools down with the myriad of apple orchards and pumpkin patches spread across the state. Who can resist a slice of apple pie baked with fresh apples, applesauce that is homemade instead of coming from a jar, or a piece of fresh-baked pumpkin bread?

Carter Mountain Orchard is a fifth-generation working farm that offers more than a dozen apple varieties for picking starting in late July and extending through November. Its sister orchard, Chiles Peach Orchard, grows a variety of white, yellow, and donut peaches.

“Pick-your-own experiences are great, unplugged family time,” says Cynthia Chiles with Carter Mountain Orchard and Chiles Peach Orchard.

Many families like to make a whole day out of the experience, and Carter Mountain orchard has plenty to offer in addition to the breathtaking views overlooking Charlottesville as families roam from apple tree to apple tree. Carter Mountain also has a market with local arts and crafts and gift items, and a picnic area where families can indulge in the aforementioned apple cider doughnuts and other baked goods as well as wine and hard cider for the grownups.

Meanwhile, The Market at Grelen in Orange County is a European style garden shop located on a 1,000-acre tree nursery. Here, families of all ages can not only pick their own blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, peaches, plums, and apples, but they can also hike, picnic, shop, or relax in a natural environment. The Market has a café with a full lunch menu made with local ingredients from its own garden and five miles of trails that connect to James Madison’s Montpelier. 

“We think of ourselves as an experience,” says Leslie Gregg, co-owner of The Market at Grelen. “People like to come for the whole day. It’s great for multi-generational families. Grandparents can sit and relax on our patio while the children are out picking the fruit.” She adds that there are different activities for everybody in the family, “and there is a lot of space so you aren’t overrun with people, which is nice now with the pandemic.”

Tips for Beginners

It’s clear there are a ton of options in the region for families. My kids and I can’t wait to grab our fruit baskets and venture out at a local farm. Based on our experience over the years, I do have some tips:

1. If it’s your first time, keep your younger kids close to you for a while. Make sure they understand the rules regarding what fruit is ready for picking. 

2. Prepare for a day in the sun! Wear sunscreen and hats, closed-toe shoes, and bring your own water bottles. Don’t forget bug spray.

3. Avoid going during peak time. Visit early in the morning and try to avoid busy weekends or the Monday after, when everything is picked over.

4. Plan ahead how you will use the fruit you pick so you don’t end up with fifteen pounds of apples and no idea what to do with them (yes, that’s happened to us!). It may be a good idea to set limits with younger kids on how much they can pick.

I hope you get out and enjoy this family adventure this year! We’ll be sure to wave to you from our socially
distanced spot under an apple tree. 

If You Go…

Here’s a handy list of some of the pick-your-own farms within a day’s drive from Richmond.

Agriberry Farm, Hanover (open select dates in 2021 only)
What’s in season? Blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries in the summer.
Distance from Richmond: 18 miles/25 minutes

Blue Eden Farm, Mechanicsville
What’s in season? Blueberries in the summer.
Distance from Richmond: 18 miles/35 minutes

Carter Mountain Orchard/Chiles Peach Orchard, Charlottesville
What’s in season? Peaches in the summer; apples in the fall.
Distance from Richmond: 74 miles/1 hour 15 minutes

Chesterfield Berry Farm, Moseley
What’s in season? Strawberries in the spring; pumpkins in the fall.

College Run Farms, Surry
What’s in season? Blueberries in the summer; pumpkins in the fall.
Distance from Richmond: 62 miles/1 hour 30 minutes

Cullipher Farms, Virginia Beach
What’s in season? Strawberries in the spring; blueberries, peaches, and nectarines in the summer; apples, muscadine grapes, and pumpkins in the fall.
Distance from Richmond: 111 miles/2 hours

Gallmeyer Farms, Richmond
What’s in season? Strawberries in the spring; pumpkins in the fall.

Hanover Peach Orchard, Mechanicsville
What’s in season? Peaches and nectarines in the summer; apples in the fall.
Distance from Richmond: 16 miles/20 minutes

Hollin Farms, Delaplane
What’s in season? Strawberries and spring vegetables in the spring; raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, peaches, pears, plums, and summer flowers and vegetables including dig-your-own potatoes in the summer; apples, pumpkins, fall greens, and dig-your-own peanuts and potatoes in the fall.
Distance from Richmond: 118 miles/2 hours 15 minutes

Lloyd Family Farms, Rockville
What’s in season? Pumpkins in the fall.
Distance from Richmond: 27 miles/30 minutes

Mount Olympus Farm, Ruther Glen
What’s in season? Strawberries in the spring; blueberries in the summer; pumpkins in the fall.
Distance from Richmond: 29 miles/30 minutes

The Market at Grelen, Somerset
What’s in season? Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, peaches, and plums in the summer; apples in the fall.
Distance from Richmond: 73 miles/1 hour 25 minutes

Wegmeyer Farms, Hamilton
What’s in season? Strawberries in the spring; pumpkins in the fall.
Distance from Richmond: 142 miles/2 hours 30 minutes

 photos courtesy: The Market at Grelen, Gallmeyer Farms, Alison McCormick

Brandy Centolanza is a freelance writer and mother of two. She writes about family travel opportunities and lifestyle.
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