I yearn for the country, for the smell of grass, horses, and fresh produce. I worry that my kids are becoming urbanites. The sight of a horse or a cow is like a UFO sighting for them. I don't want them only to know the noise, sights, and smells of the city. That's not how I grew up. My husband Patrick listened patiently to my lamenting on this subject last week, and when I had thoroughly unloaded on him, he offered a suggestion. "Let's take the kids to a farm to pick their own berries, or apples, or something. They can get the farm experience for a day, and maybe see some animals." "Well, apple season isn't until fall," I told him, "but the berries might be a good idea, if there are any berry farms in San Diego County."
I sat down at the computer, and within minutes I'd found farms that offered produce picking to the public. But I was having trouble getting most farms to answer their phones. I got through to two farms. Melanie Anderson, of Anderson Farms & Victoria's Gardens (619-390-9571; www.victoriasgardens.us ) in Lakeside, gave me information on her farm on Willow Road, one mile off of Route 67. "We are a miniature farm with several acres for picking," she explained. "We do strawberry picking, which starts in March and goes through June. We also do watermelon picking in the summer and pumpkin picking in the fall. I don't know of anywhere else in the area that does watermelon picking. The children come and they each pick a head-sized watermelon, and we also chop up cold watermelon for them to eat while they are here. We have a couple acres of picking area that we offer to the public."
Anderson said she gets a lot of people coming in search of a farm experience. "The city folks love the concept because they are city folks, and they want to go to the farm. The East County folk are like 'Who wants to go to Lakeside?' So when I do the educational presentation for the kids, I put stuff in about Lakeside. I tell them that little old Lakeside is the fifth largest rodeo town in the United States. We also have more quarter horses per capita in the United States than anywhere else."
The educational presentation comes with the field trip packages. "Right now we have over 100 children from schools that are picking strawberries. Everything is hopping and exciting. The kids get to ride ponies, go on a hayride; we have flower mazes and corn mazes, and a straw playground area. There are also barnyard animals for them to feed, and we do an educational presentation about the farm, animals, picking strawberries, and how strawberries grow. They can have their picnics here, and they get a little basket to pick strawberries. The school field trips cost $7 per child for a group of ten or more."
For non-school groups, there is a package deal for $10 per person, which includes four different rides, including pony, hayride, jumping machine, and a giant slide, and a little basket for them to pick strawberries.
The farm also offers birthday party packages ( $125 ). For ten children, they get four tables for four hours, and ten pony ride tickets, ten hayride tickets, ten jumping machine tickets, ten slide tickets, and ten U-Pick strawberry tickets. If there are more than ten children, then it is $8 more per child.
Anderson Farms & Victoria's Gardens also offers festivals on weekends. "This weekend we are having a Western Day festival with food, entertainment, and line dancing. This May we will have a Mother's Day celebration. There will be all kinds of food that you can buy that's made from strawberries. And mothers will be able to pick their own strawberries. And Memorial Day weekend, we will open the farm up for families that want to picnic and pick strawberries and ride ponies."
The farm is open every day from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and they have a farm stand with organic fruits and vegetables for sale as well as plants and pottery.
Though I was delighted to have found a place that had pick-your-own strawberries, my hubby Patrick is a lover of blackberries. I found a place he would love with my next call. I spoke with Dave Sossaman, owner of Lake Sutherland Farms (760-788-9499). His farm is five miles east of Ramona on the corner of Highway 78 and Sutherland Dam Road. "We bought the farm in 1999, and we researched that the microclimate that we are in is perfect for growing blackberries. We grow a few different types of thornless blackberries on two acres, and we will be planting another four acres. Blackberries ripen the end of July and last a month or two. We are open on Saturdays and Sundays from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. We recommend people come early in the morning because people will pick all the ripe blackberries and then it will take another week for more to ripen. For $4 a pound, we give them a bucket, or they can use their own bucket, and they go out and have a good time. Ninety percent of the fun is going out and picking the fruit yourself. But if there is a customer that is disabled or an older person that can't go pick them, we will go out and pick them for them, or the kids will go out and pick them."