A strawberry from Pine Tree Apple Orchard. Photos by Valerie Turgeon.
If you’re like me, you try to make the most of every summer by never spending a minute indoors. It’s inevitable though, especially when you need to run errands. But when it comes to grocery shopping, you can get a lot of your produce at local outdoor farmer’s markets. Better yet, you can pick your own produce. Recently, I went to Pine Tree Apple Orchard in White Bear Lake to pick my own strawberries (six pounds worth!).
Strawberry picking is quite different than the apples you’d pick in the fall. It could be considered a more leisurely activity—the strawberry plants are low to the ground so you can sit or kneel, and this makes it easier for kids to participate. Plus, strawberries aren’t nearly as heavy as apples, which means not having to lug a wagon behind you.
The walk to the strawberry fields from the grassy parking lot isn’t far, but Pine Tree still gives tractor rides. You are also given a free cardboard box that holds up to eight pounds of strawberries, and a piece of carpet you can kneel on (I saw that some smart pickers brought foam gardening pads to use). Once the tractor drops you off at the field, you are given directions: Make sure to pick the dark strawberries, as the brighter ones still have some maturing to do, and leave the stem on—they’ll stay fresher longer.
You are then guided to your own row of berries to pick from. The time goes by fast as you inspect each strawberry and take care not to accidentally squish one as you booty shuffle your way down the row (hay is lined between the fields so that you don’t get muddy, but tennis shoes or boots, and old clothes are still recommended).
The strawberries picked from the fields certainly beats the disappointing quality found in supermarkets (including the price—we paid just $2.50 per pound). The first thing we noticed after biting into one of Pine Tree’s berries was how juicy and red the center was. It was much sweeter than what we’re used to, but the effect was addicting. After a few bowls of berries (and some margaritas) later, we had already gone through about four pounds.
Pine Tree also offers pre-picked strawberries, but for the rest of this season, only frozen ones are still available. Even though you may go for the delectable fresh fruit, the act of picking is reason enough to head to the farm. It made me happy to see the kids around us exclaim how excited they were to go home to prepare the strawberries and eat healthy snacks. The kids also compared each other’s strawberries to see who could pick the best ones (admittedly, my boyfriend and I held a similar competition).
Picking was a surprisingly therapeutic activity as I focused on inspecting the berries, shooing away bugs, and embracing the warm weather out in an open field, away from the chaos of day-to-day life. It’s not often I sit on the ground of a farm to gather my own food! This is an especially great activity for city dwellers who long to have a garden of their own.
Berry season in Minnesota is short—only from about mid-June to mid-July, so make sure to mark your calendar each year. Before heading out to Pine Tree to pick strawberries, call the Berryline, which will tell you the hours and if picking is available that day (if the farm had a huge crowd of pickers the day before, there may not be enough to pick the next day).
Also don’t miss Pine Tree’s bakery in the main building, especially the strawberry muffins—they’re bery good.
Pine Tree Apple Orchard
450 Apple Orchard Rd., White Bear Lake
The Berryline: 651-429-8026