Annual Manual » Food & Restaurants

Easy Pickins'

Why getting your hands dirty at local farms is worth the effort

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Cherries ripe for the picking at Walter's Fruit Ranch in Green Bluff. - STUART DANFORD
  • Stuart Danford
  • Cherries ripe for the picking at Walter's Fruit Ranch in Green Bluff.

There is perhaps no more quintessential Inland Northwest experience than picking an apple straight off an orchard tree. Even though Washington's apples can be found in grocery stores all over, there's something different about having a chat with your local farmer about what you're making (they'll recommend different apples for different uses), then heading in the direction of just the right trees to choose the ones that look best to you. Far from the industrial overhead lights of the produce department, you get to see what apples look like in their natural habitat (and it's a lot of fun to bring kids, or a group of friends, and make a day of it).

You probably know that apple season happens in the fall (it's tough to miss around here), but you might not be aware that apples are just the tip of the U-pick iceberg in our area. You'll find local berries, of course: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries, but did you know that you can also pick asparagus and morel mushrooms?

While you're stopping by to pick peaches (which are even better just off the tree, warmed by the afternoon sun), it's likely that you'll also be able to get your hands on tomatoes, plums, cucumbers, carrots and corn.

In the fall, along with the apples, a whole new season of abundance begins. Take the kids out to dig potatoes out of the ground (you might need a hose when you get home) and pick out the perfect pumpkin for your porch or carving party. While you're at it, pick up some other squash for hearty soups — as local as it gets, unless you grow it yourself.

If you're a lover of lavender, you're in luck. There are several options for picking your own locally for everything from a sachet to folding into your favorite shortbread recipe (be sure to ask your farmer about the right kind for your project).

Besides the actual produce, there are plenty of other reasons to visit U-pick farms. Often, they'll offer fresh berry pies or newly pressed apple cider. Others will have chicken or duck eggs for sale, or handicrafts, as well as wine, beer, hard cider or mead.

Although it might seem like things wind down in late fall, don't let the snow keep you away from hunting down your own Christmas tree, right at the farm. There's nothing quite like picking out the tree you want while it's still growing. If a tree isn't your thing, or if you're just all about greenery, you can pick up a fresh wreath.

Harvesting your own food is an invitation to slow down just a bit, bring a picnic (and some sunscreen), and take a good look around at the riches of our region with some people you love. Then, when you bite into that apple or peach, or sprinkle those blueberries into your pancakes, you won't just be tasting the fruit flavors; you'll be tasting a sense of place, and the fruits of your own labor as well.

U-Pick Destinations

Green Bluff Perhaps the most recognizable U-pick destination, Green Bluff is home to more than 30 locally owned farms and orchards, including a lavender farm. If you want to pick something, chances are they grow it somewhere in Green Bluff. You'll also find people brewing beer, making wine and crafting mead. Their user-friendly website will show you what's in season at the moment (click through to see which farms grow those things). You'll also find a cheat sheet for what's in season when (approximately) and a handy map of the entire double loop, with farms numbered for easy navigation. Pick your own day, or head out during one of the many festivals, including a holiday one in the winter. Mead, Wash. • greenbluffgrowers.com

Carver Farms Just past Post Falls, you'll want to check out 120 acres of pick-your-own produce, from berries to beans, pumpkins, peaches, and corn (to name just a few) at Carver Farms. Don't forget to head back for Christmas trees. 9105 N. Idaho Rd., Newman Lake, Wash. • 226-3602

Riley Creek Blueberry Farm Bring your kids and four-legged friends to this friendly U-pick farm. As you can tell by the name, they're all about the blueberries. This farm provides buckets for picking and bags to take your berries home; no need to bring your own. 44 Whitney Way, Laclede, Idaho • 208-263-4114

Bishops' Orchard Come pick apples (and the occasional pear) and press your own cider out on the Palouse, not far from Pullman and Moscow. This farm is only open during apple season, so be sure to check in before you go. 904 W. Adams St., Garfield, Wash. • 635-1276

Evening Light Lavender Farm Fifteen minutes north of Spokane you'll find a certified organic lavender farm. Though you might think of lavender as only purple, here you'll find other hues like white, pink, and blue. Besides U-pick and a variety of lavender products, the farm also offers classes and workshops. 5552 S. Wallbridge Rd., Deer Park, Wash. • 939-0313

Red Canoe Farms Located east of Spokane and west of Coeur d'Alene, right on the Washington-Idaho border, you can pick eight varieties of blueberries for all your smoothies and pancakes here. They'll even provide picking receptacles and storage for taking your berries home. 28405 W. Highway 53, Hauser, Idaho • 208-777-0986 n


U-Pick Tips

If you're new to the U-pick life, we've got your back. Here are a few tips to get you picking like a pro in no time:

Call ahead

If you're hoping to go pick cherries, don't just check the website; give the farmer a call. Not every farm is open during the week, and the status of available produce can change quickly. (Plus, not everything is right on schedule, ripening-wise). Confirm what they have and when they are open before you make the trek. This is also the time to check in on payment options: many farms are only able to accept cash, so be sure to stop by the ATM.

Plan for success

Be sure to bring the essentials for several hours outside. It's always good to have water, snacks, and sunscreen or a hat. You'll also want to wear washable, comfortable clothes and shoes. You might have to get on a ladder or crouch next to a vine. It's also not a bad idea to get there early, especially on hot days (to manage the sun) or weekend days (to beat the crowds).

Bring your baskets

It's always a good idea to bring along your own containers. Baskets and buckets are great for apples and stone fruit, and plastic containers work well for berries (just make sure you have large enough ones for what you're hoping to pick), but if you're stumped by a type of produce, just ask the farmer before you come.

Carpool

Especially on the weekends during the height of summer and fall, it can get crowded at these farms; you'll have an easier time finding a place to park with one vehicle. But that's not the only reason to carpool: U-pick is a great opportunity to spend time with people you love. Grab some friends and make a day of it.