Take Your Pick

 

Cherry Lane Farm / photo by Abeer Yusuf

Cherry Lane Farm / photo by Abeer Yusuf

 

From raspberries to plums, a guide to do-it-yourself fruit picking in Vancouver.

 

Story and photos by Abeer Yusuf

 

With the height of summer fast-approaching, the flowers that give Vancouver the springtime appearance of a child’s drawing book will finally give way to fruits. B.C. is known for its quality produce and local growers will soon serve up the best nature has to offer.

 

Can you imagine a greater joy than bending over little bushes, climbing up ladders—literally picking the lowest-hanging fruit—and bringing it home to enjoy for days to come? The Lower Mainland is home to countless orchards which offer every kind of fruit, squash and green you can think of. To complete your summer experience, head over to these farms and pick your own fruit!

 

“U-Pick”, as they are often known, involves bringing your own bucket, picking your choice of fruit and paying by weight before heading home. It’s a win-win for farmers and customers—farmers don’t have to worry about extra harvesting workers and the product is delivered instantaneously; customers get a better deal buying from the orchard directly while having a fun outing.

 

Located as close as Burnaby, Richmond and Surrey, U-Picks are a common sight in the developed north, and are usually in full swing during summer, when fruit is ripe. Guidebook spoke with two farms with different crops about U-picking on the West Coast.

 


 

photos by Abeer Yusuf

Surrey Farms / photos by Abeer Yusuf

Surrey Farms, Surrey

5180 – 152 Street
Surrey, BC
(604) 574-1390
What: Blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries.
When: Strawberry season on now; raspberries’ season starts in June; blueberries start the first week of July.
How much: All for $1.25 per pound.
Transit: By bus (two buses from Bridgeport station) and car.
Bring: Cash and your own bucket.

 

Mandy Rai, 54, runs a tight ship—in her maroon Jeep, she runs from one farm to another, taking care of the family business and answering non-stop calls.

 

Owner of 300 acres of berry field spread over four farms, Rai forgets she’s in Vancouver when berry picking season comes along as Punjabi families descend upon her crops. “You wouldn’t be able to tell that you’re in Canada when you see families taking the fruit,” she says.

 

Rai, who came to Canada in 1977, has been working on the farm and taking care of it for the last 27 years. Despite not needing to do this work, Rai finds a sense of purpose, and most importantly, comfort working on the farm, adding, “if I don’t do anything I’ll get bored.”

 

The farm, which employs eight full-time staff, is a massive operation—Rai’s leftover blueberries go to canneries during the season and she also sells them locally. Rai is extremely proud of the work and crop she puts out every year, and encourages people to come out and have fun.

 

“It’s a great fun activity for the whole family,” she says.

 

Mandy and Miles’ tips for U-Picking:

 

•Wear gumboots. Don’t come to the farm in high heels and a skirt. Dress in clothes you don’t mind getting dirty.

•Bring water—you’ll be under the sun.

•Don’t randomly pick at all the fruit—go orderly in rows. Picking at random fruit my cause good fruit to fall.

•If you have kids, talk to them about the farm’s other crops. Many plants are young and growing, in danger of being trampled.

•Don’t eat the fruit before you pay for it—it’s common courtesy.

•Practise changing lightbulbs on ladders before picking apples and peaches. It’ll give you the practise to balance yourself out in the orchard.

•Miles’ super tip: “If you’re going to try bargaining with me about how much to pay for your U-Pick, don’t show up in a BMW or a Mercedes.”

 

 


 

Cherry Lane Farm / photo by Abeer Yusuf

Cherry Lane Farm / photo by Abeer Yusuf

 

Cherry Lane Farm, Richmond

9571 Beckwith Road
Richmond, BC
778-833-3379

 

What: Apples, plums for U-pick. Lots of fresh vegetables grown on the farm for sale as well.
When: Apple season starts the second week of August, plums the first week of September.
How much: Prices vary by quality.
Transit: SkyTrain, bus and car.
Bring: Cash, and comfy clothes. Buckets and ladders provided.

 

Miles Smart runs his family’s farm in Richmond and says he grows everything apart from watermelons. The 25-year-old is farmer by day, bass player by night, and loves what he does—so much so he quit his sociology and history degree when he realised farming was more fun than writing term papers.

 

Yet when you step onto his farm, you’ll find he’s just as willing to talk to you about the variants of B.C. topsoil as he is comfortable debating Nietzsche and Schopenhaur. Growing everything from Korean garlic to field tomatoes to fennel and kale, Cherry Lane’s U-pick will feature Gravenstein apples and Italian prune plums. The farm usually has cherries too, but Smart says this is not a good year for his cherries, so U-picking won’t be available for those. He does however encourage people to come for the apples this year, as he predicts this crop will bear great fruit. And if you don’t know much about apple picking, don’t worry. Smart and other farm employees are always on hand to tell you what to pick.

 

Smart’s farm also has an incredible range of vegetables and greens you can buy fresh after you’re done picking. One particular highlight is the Romaine lettuce, which Smart says is the best in town. Other items on the exhaustive list are: sorrel, mizuna, green peppers, fennel, zucchini, Italian dandelion, broccoli, cabbage, celery, Swiss chard, winter squash, onions, leeks, corn, beets, potato, tomatoes, and even French Colombard grapes.
Smart plans to keep the farm within the family and does what he does because soon, “when the farm is more glorious looking in about July, there will be nothing better than the sunset over the farm a drink in hand,” he says. “You swell with pride.”

 

How to pick the right fruit:

 

For strawberries: pick the ones that are really really red and firm all through.
For raspberries and blueberries: make sure the fruit is blue on all sides, if it is green partially, its not completely ripe.
For Gravenstein apples: pick the ones that have red stripes on them, they almost look like a tigers’. If they’re red, they’re ready.
For prune plums: if they’re softer to touch, they’re ready to be picked, if they feel hard and firm, keep looking.