If you love to “u-pick” apricots, cherries and peaches, you know the season is heartbreakingly short. By the time you get your head around the fact that it is actually June, the orchards that offer DIY harvesting are often already bare.
But this year’s extraordinary weather brings good news for Bay Area stone fruit fans: The extra-rainy spring has delayed harvest time for the region’s farms. In fact, many growers that often wrap up their u-pick seasons in mid-June are only now opening their fields to city pickers.
And while the Bay Area continues to suffer through gloomy skies, the orchards of the far East Bay now bask in sunshine and make a perfect destination to escape June’s coastal gloom.
About an hour east of Downtown San Francisco, Brentwood is the historic favorite u-pick destination for stone fruit—aka fruits with a pit, like cherries and peaches. Sitting at the edge of Contra Costa County near the Sacramento River Delta and the San Joaquin Valley, this agricultural area is known for the heat and space needed to ripen cherries, nectarines, peaches, plums and, later in the summer, corn and other crops. (Click here for a map to the area’s farms—though only a handful offer u-pick harvesting.)
"To us, the farm has become a labor of love for sure,” said Kevin Vornhagen, who, together with his wife, Deneen, runs Brentwood’s Vornhagen Farm, which is now open for u-pick white Rainier cherries. “We do everything ourselves except pruning, which would be impossible with almost 4,000 trees!"
But you don’t have to drive an hour to pick your own fruit—or limit your picking to summer. Cloverfield Organic Farm is nestled in the hills of El Sobrante, within minutes of the bay just north of Richmond.
Farmer Susan Truscott said she expects her farm’s harvest to be reduced this year because the stone fruit trees were blooming when it was too cold and rainy for the bees to pollinate the flowers. But she has a variety of u-pick produce available all year long, as well as raw honey, dried herbs and seeds. The website reads, “If the ‘open’ sign is out, please drive on down and we will give you a tour and tell you what is ready for 'the pickin’.”
“The best part about offering u-pick fruit here is that we get to interact with customers and show them how an organic farm can be bountiful in our temperate Bay Area microclimate,” said Truscott. Her customers can put whatever fruit and veggies they like in a basket as they tour the farm and learn about organic farming methods along the way.
In the map and table below, The Standard pulled together a guide to the u-pick farms that make for a perfect summer day trip from the Bay Area, offering a variety of fruits from raspberries in Sebastopol to apricots in Brentwood to strawberries in Portola Valley.
If it’s your first time, don’t forget to check the farm’s website or social media before starting your drive. Most farms charge a per-person entry fee plus $4 or $6 per pound for fruit. Some require reservations. Some are BYO bucket. But all provide a dirty-hands, sticky-face experience that’s pure California summer—and one that makes you appreciate the farmers’ markets that pop up in San Francisco and Bay Area neighborhoods the rest of the year.
Shelley D. Fargo contributed additional research for this story.
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