Berry Good 2018-05-22 COLOR252

Strawberries are the first berries to ripen each year; they are the leaders of the berry world, followed by raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and again, late summer raspberries.  Strawberries arrange themselves in the shape of a heart, and serve as a reminder to stay sweet, and always lead from the heart.

2014-05-31 strawberry heart

Start watching the weather on Mother’s Day, and plan on picking strawberries around Memorial Day, or as soon as school lets out. Strawberries need sunshine in order to ripen, but when it gets hot, the berry picking window begins to close fast. May is a busy month, but don’t let your kids grow up without picking strawberries because of that. Skip school or take the whole kindergarten classroom with you if you have to.

Strawberry picking will stain your knees, so wear old clothing, duck boots and bring sun protection, hand sanitizer and water. See if you can find a toad under the leaves, and look around for bees. Picking strawberries teaches a reverence for the land, while catching toads teaches empathy.  Look around for workers in the fields.

2012-05-12 Thies Farms Toad

It’s easy to pick far too many berries, so to protect your afternoon nap, work backwards from a recipe before heading out into the fields. Think: strawberry smoothies, strawberry shortcake, chocolate dipped strawberries, and strawberry jam.  Freezer jam is easy to make, and is an excellent gift for teachers, family and friends. Finding strawberry jam in your freezer is like opening a bottle of summer sunshine on a cold winter’s day.

Many families are worried about kids eating “dirty” strawberries in the fields. Weirdly, the dirtiest strawberries are the ones in the grocery stores, from customers “fingering” the fruit. Farmers want you to pay for your fruit, but farmers also understand the importance of growing happy new customers. So enjoy watching that toddler’s first taste of strawberry in the sunshine, and take lots of pictures.

2012-05-12 Thies Farms Saoirse

Millennials know that strawberries are #1 on the “Dirty Dozen” list, and local farmers are responding to that wish for organic strawberries. Ask lots of questions and take the “Strawberry Challenge” up a level, by growing strawberries at home. Or find organic berries at your farmers market, by showing up early and looking for the longest line.

2013-05-25 strawberries landscape

Arrange your sweet heart in the shape of the “Strawberry Leader”, and be the one who takes kids into the strawberry fields. Help cultivate a good food culture while embedding memories that last not only a lifetime, but arc across the generations. You’ll be glad you did.

2018 Babb Blueberries

Below are destinations that have been field tested by Green Spiral adventure families, in alphabetical order:

Babb Blueberry Farm in Beufort – If you miss the chance to pick strawberries in May, you can pick blueberries later in June. Blueberry picking is perfect for inter-generational groups, as there is no bending over for the elders, nor “too high” fruit frustration for the youngers.  Babb Blueberry Farm uses organic fertilizers, and no pesticides or herbicides. They also sell frozen blueberries and homemade jam. Located one hour west from the Arch along I-44, this is a small family operation with nice restrooms, a fishing pond and excellent hospitality. Bring a picnic lunch.  Or, stop in Eureka, Pacific or at the Junie Moon Cafe in Union along the way. They keep up on their Facebook posts, but always call before you go.  GPS: 2751 Highway 50, Beaufort, MO 63013 * (636) 667-1171

#BerryBikeRide – Annual Strawberry Bike Ride sponsored by Trailnet, ending with a strawberry festival in Saint Jacobs, Illinois, located about 40 minutes east from the Arch.

Eckert’s Farm in Belleville – The grandmother of all U-pick farms, Eckert’s is a seventh generation business, and the largest PYO orchard in the country,  offering U-pick strawberries, blackberries, peaches, apples and pumpkins. This is a full blown agri-tourism operation, with a restaurant, store, concerts, festivals, pony rides, cooking classes and all sorts of things to do. They also offer school tours and operate four other farm destinations. Because Eckert’s is a mature business, they always answer their phones, monitor social media sites and keep their web-pages updated. Look for their online recipes.   GPS: 951 S. Green Mount Road, Belleville, IL 62220 *(800) 745-0513 or (618) 233-0513

EarthDance Organic Farm School – watch for EarthDance Farm in Ferguson to add U-Pick Strawberries soon. EarthDance is one of the most remarkable organic farm schools in the country. GPS: 233 S Dade Ave, Ferguson, MO 63135 * 314-521-1006

Farmers Markets of Saint Louis – Strawberries are popular items and sell out quickly.  If you want to find local organic strawberries, just show up early at your favorite farmers market, and look for the longest line. There is no apostrophe in Farmers Markets, because it is literally a market for farmers, plural.  Farmers Markets are business incubators, and at the core, farming is a business. If you want to support small farmers, and the local food movement, head for your local farmers market. Farmers Markets are the “Mothers” of any local food ecosystem, and strawberries are their favorite little darlings.

Grocery Stores – Most organic strawberries in local grocery stores are grown  in California. Sometimes you can find Thies Farm strawberries — look around and ask your grocer about local strawberries.  Beware of food from other countries, which have different protections for workers and from pesticides. There is a big discussion in the food community about organic foods versus local foods, so feel free to join in, as there are many right answers. Don’t swap berries between cartons, as it’s not healthy for other customers, plus, it’s rude. “Fingering the fruit” is why clamshell containers were recently invented, and it’s a surprise to learn that strawberries in the fields are cleaner than grocery store strawberries, for this exact reason.

Hermans in Saint Charles – for blackberries, peaches, apples and pumpkins. GPS: 3663 N. Hwy 94, St. Charles, MO 63301 * (636) 925-9969

Lakeview Farms near St. Peters – This is a tiny farm that is easy to miss, sandwiched between suburban neighborhood tracts. Sign up for the Lakeview Farms e-mail list, or follow the “Strawberry Report” on their simple web-site. They also send out a postcard each Spring.  Always call the morning of your trip; Farmer Karl answers on his cell phone in the fields. There are no porta potties so plan accordingly. When you get there, pick up a box, and you will be directed to a specific row to pick, marked between two flags.  For an extra fee, kids can prospect for gold and other treasures in the nearby creek. This is an especially nice location to pick raspberries later in the season. Fritz’s Ice Cream is located nearby on Hwy K, past Feise Rd GPS: 8265 Mexico Road; St. Peters 63376 * (636) 978-8830 (Farmer Karl)   Special Note: Be careful! Your GPS wants to divert you to a similarly named farm nearby. Stay in St. Peters.

Missouri Botanical Gardens – Visit the vegetable gardens, specifically the raspberry patch in early summer, to see how it’s done. The Kemper Center will help you with any questions, or you can call the hotline any morning before noon at (314) 577-5143 or send them an email at plantinformation@mobot.org

Ozark Berry Farm ===>>> field trip!

Thies Farm – The Thies family has been farming in Missouri since 1885 and now has three locations.   The three different locations makes the web-site, Fb and phones a little confusing. You can ask about strawberry picking on their Facebook Page, but it’s better to call and ask about field conditions before heading out. By the way, the way to pronounce Thies Farm is like this: “TEES Farm”.

The North Hanley location is the oldest and the smallest, with toddler swings and spinning tractor tires, perfectly sized for very young children.  It’s located near the airport, so you get to watch planes drop down in preparation for landing AND pick strawberries at the same time, which is super exciting for young children. Typically open only on Saturdays, this is a good destination for your very first strawberry picking trip. For older kids, come back later in the summer for blackberry picking and peaches. Watch out for thorns on the blackberries. You can also pick your own flowers. There is a small store, with porta-potties on site.  GPS: 4215 North Hanley Road, 63121 * (314) 429 – 5506 *  

The Maryland Heights operation, located near Creve Coeur Lake, is the largest Thies Farm, offering strawberry picking, a playground, a larger retail operation, and tractor rides into the fields on weekends, a highlight for kids. Thies strawberries are not organic, but Thies does practice IPM (Integrated Pest Management), crop rotation, and drip irrigation. Be careful with your GPS, as the road used to be named Creve Coeur Road and recently changed names to Maryland Heights Expressway. Again, always call before you go.  Farming is exhausting work, and it’s hard for farmers to find the time to do the work AND keep up with web-sites and social media. Maryland Heights GPS: 3120 Maryland Heights Expressway; 63146 * (314) 469-7559 *

The Thies Farm St. Charles location is a new retail operation, located along the Katy Trail; it sells plants, produce and specialty items, like grass fed beef, harvest pies and quail eggs.  GPS: 3200 Greens Bottom Road St. Charles, MO 63304 * (636) 447-2230 *  

Wind Ridge Farms in New Melle – This family farm offers wagon rides for kids and blueberry, blackberry and peach picking. It’s a bit of a drive from Saint Louis, but well worth it, especially if you are looking for peaches or blueberries. Located one hour west of the Arch, along 40/64 just past Weldon Springs.  GPS: 3511 Highway F, New Melle 63341 * (636) 828-5900

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