It is mid March and therefore prime strawberry picking time! We thought we'd share our experience picking strawberries and give you some tips and tricks to go strawberry picking with your family! It is a great memory maker, tradition, and way to get fresh air, and fresh, local, strawberries. It's also a great way to explore more of the local farms out in the country, and enjoy agritourism, a growing activity for Jacksonville families! Agritourism is a way for farmers to bring the public onto their farms to make additional money off the land and be able to keep the farm and not sell to development because of the extra income. Agritourism can consist of corn mazes, golfing on the farm, creating u-pick plots of strawberries, blueberries and other fruit, having playgroups, and more. The public gets to visit private farms, learn about local food, view farm animals and wild animals, and learn all about the country! We hope you enjoy your strawberry picking agritourism experience! Read below for some tips and tricks to strawberry picking with the family! Click here for the ultimate guide to U-Pick strawberry farms and strawberry festivals closest to Northeast Florida!
1. Go Early in the Morning! The strawberry farms are west of St. Augustine, in Middleburg, west of Palatka and just north of Gainesville. So, leave early because of the drive time. You definitely want to get there before it gets too hot. The strawberry bushes are low to the ground and there is no shade. Getting there early will allow the weather to be cooler and the kids will be less likely to melt down due to heat. Also, earlier in the morning you'll find plenty of berries left to pick and/or you won't have to walk too far to find bushes with berries.
2. Bring the Proper Protective Gear. Due to the strawberry bushes being low, there is no shade or cover in the fields. Therefore, bring a hat, sunscreen, and even an umbrella for shade. Also, bring closed toed shoes with socks as the fields could be muddy from watering or rain.
3. Bring Snacks! As with any activity with toddlers, be prepared with water and snacks. You don't want to get caught outside in warm conditions without snacks! Many of the farms are far from stores and also don't have snacks. It is amazing how you can recover from a meltdown caused by low blood sugar with a few goldfish and sips of ice water! Sure, you can grab some strawberries, but solid snacks will go much farther.
4. What to Pick. The staff may tell you what to pick, but if not, here you go. Pick berries that have no white on the tops. They should be all red to the stem to ensure they are completely ripe. Pick the berries by breaking them off the stem. Don't let the kids just pull as that may damage the plant and it could stop producing. Just grab the berry and pull to the side so there is a clean break from the stem. And of course get in the rhythm of break, eat, break, bucket, break, eat, break, bucket, and repeat!
5. Go with the Flow. You might want to pick buckets and buckets of ripe, red, sweet strawberries, but your family might be done after one small bucket. Just go with the flow. Take a break, change a diaper, have a snack, or look at other farm sights. A few tasty bites is all you need to qualify an as experience. And don't worry, there's always Publix Plant City strawberries in case you didn't get enough for those muffins or pies!
6. Yours for the Picking. Be sure to bring cash in case the farms don't take cards. Many farms charge between $2.50 - $5.00 per pound. One bucket holds about 5 pounds. Strawberries should be picked completely red, with no white on top. Be sure to pick up the berry and pull away from the stem. Picking in this fashion, and making sure they are all red, will give you the most ripe berries, won't damage the plant, and will help the plants continue to produce more berries. Pick along the row, not just here and there, so other families can pick up where you left off.
7. Last but Not Least: Wear cute pigtails or bring a stylish hat (that will end up on the dad, of course!) for those Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and/or Twitter photos. And be sure to snap some shots first thing! You don't want to leave after an early meltdown without photos!!!
For a list of all the farms near Jacksonville, click HERE!
Grab a map and do some research before you go! The Rype and Readi Farm to Fork is near the Palatka to St. Augustine Rail to Trail so bring your bikes for some exercise! Fresh Farms Produce Middleburg is near Jennings State Forest with hiking trails in a natural Florida forest. Rogers Farm is near the Lubee Bat Conservancy. You can look at the dates and times Lubee Bat Conservancy is open for exploring through their fruit bat lairs! Brown's Farm is near the St. Johns River Water Management District's free Newnans Lake Conservation Area where you can go hiking! Or head into Gainesville and explore the Florida Natural History Museum. Don't forget to tag us on your travels! #Fun4FirstCoastKids!