Friday, June 18, 2010

A Berry Good Day

We went berry picking at a "You Pick" farm about an hour away from our house yesterday. The trip requires a ferry ride, which was a highlight for the kids. Something about that "sea air" puts you in a mood to be outside. It was nice an breezy, and very pleasant, which was good, since the next few hours were to be spent in a field in upper 80 degree and high humidity weather.

The drive to the farm was gorgeous. I love small, older towns, and the interesting houses in them. I got lost once, but since the scenery was so beautiful, it was more like "exploring" than being in the wrong place.

Usually I am not a hot weather person, but once we drove up to the farm and saw the seeming endless rows of green plants dotted with ripe, red berries, the task of strawberry picking on a hot day became more of a challenge than a chore. It wasn't very complicated, either. All you had to do to get started was to pick up a basket at the counter, so I grabbed four and we headed out to the fields.

Our friends had called ahead of time and been told that the fields were fairly bare of strawberries, and that only a few rows of blueberries were harvestable, but we decided to try anyway. Since I have ZERO strawberries on plants at my house, seeing one, two, and sometimes even three ripe ones per plant seemed like a lot to me. Perhaps when the fields are completely in season it is even more amazing, but been a first-timer, I was pretty happy with what there was. It points out to me how so much of gratitude is based on perspective.

Ladybug went off with her friend and her mother, while Tex and his friend took the baby (how nice of them!). That left me with Firefly and Cowboy, which was just about right. Keeping them from eating more than they picked, or from picking unripe fruit, was a task in and of itself, let alone trying to pick berries to use to make jam later on. 

Actually, though, they were quite good and we all had a nice time. I was a bit intimidated at first, not being quite sure what to pick and what to leave, but after a few minutes, I got the hang of it. Other than the constant bending over, standing up, bending over, standing up, it wasn't that difficult to pick, even in the heat. It took about an hour and a half, maybe a bit more, to fill up a basket (it took extra time to stop and let the kids take turns picking the ripe ones I'd find). Tex and his friend managed to gather a basketful each in the same amount of time.

Ladybug was not quite as successful. She ate most of hers. Apparently, the folks there are used to that, as they were not perturbed at all. My method of avoiding Firefly and Cowboy filling up with contraband strawberries was to let them eat the mushy ones that I didn't want in the basket, but that were just going to rot on the plant anyway. Okay, I know we should have washed them first, but frankly, a bit of dirt never hurt anyone...consider it an immunity builder, or adding minerals to their diet.

Once we had our strawberry baskets full, it was time to take a break for water and to eat. My friend's boys had lost interest in the berry picking earlier and gone searching for a container to put tadpoles and frogs in. My kids retained their interest fairly well, but they were ready for a chance to cool off.

After refreshing drinks, apples, and PBJ sandwiches (using fresh peanut butter and jam another friend made with peanuts and berries from this very farm), the kids gathered for a rowdy game of Duck, Duck, Goose. I don't know where they got all their energy on such a hot day. Maybe it was all the sugar from the berries. In any case, it was very nice that the farm had a covered, but open and breezy building and tables for us to use. The kids also chased the barn cat a bit, and examined the birds' nests in the rafters, then wandered back towards the fields looking for toads.

Next up: the blueberry fields.

Now, if you thought strawberry picking sounded like fun, it was. If you thought it sounded like a lot of work, it was. If you want to go for the less work, more fun thing, and you aren't picky about what kind of fruit you get...pick blueberries.

After the constant bend over, rummage around, pick, stand up, move on, bend over, repeat...of strawberry picking, picking blueberries was a blessed relief. I was able to take Boo out of his stroller and plop him on a patch of dirt to play, while the other little ones and I sat in front of a bush and started picking. One bush yielded 1/8 of a basket or so, so there wasn't much need to move along too often. It was much quicker work and very satisfying for the little ones. If I had to do only one or the other, I'd choose blueberries, if the point was the kids' experience (and the kids were little). Tastewise, well, I prefer strawberry jam overall, but blueberry pancakes and muffins are might appealing, too.

After we finished with the blueberries, we took our baskets inside and paid for them. I couldn't believe how cheap the berries were compared to what you pay in the supermarket! If I can figure out how to make the freezer jam my friend recommends, then this will definitely represent a savings on our grocery bill, not to mention the fact that I can make it without all the additives, and the added benefit of the fun experience (and the sweet family memories).

Before we left, we couldn't resist buying each of the kids (and ourselves) a cup of fresh and homemade ice cream, which we topped with blueberries. Yum. If I lived closer, I'd go back just for the ice cream. As it is, I will just have to look forward to getting more next year. I am definitely hooked on the "You Pick" experience.

On the ferry ride back home, we spied an osprey in her nest with several young ones. The kids thought that was pretty swell.

Isn't it great how everything you do when you homeschool qualifies as a learning experience? We read about strawberry and blueberry crops on the flyers while we were there. We talked with the owner's neice about CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture farms). We saw several types of birds, various other mammals, amphibians, and insects, and we even discussed transportation when we were on the ferry. The kids worked on manners (especially at lunch) and the character traits of obedience and patience while we picked, plus thankfulness and helpfulness throughout the day. We listened to an interesting tape by Dr. Wile of Apologia Ministries about creation science on the way there, and finished it before the ferry ride on the way back. 

We did a bit of everything, and we had had fun doing it. We even had the bonus of something big to show for it at the end of the day that is more than just a grade on a fill-in-the-blanks test...two HUGE baskets of strawberries and two baskets of blueberries, and the promise of a follow-up activity (making jam and blueberry pancakes) in the near future. Awesome.

It was a berry good day.

And just in case you were wondering...Yes, they did all fall asleep on the way back home.

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