Love the idea of homegrown produce, but lack the green thumb to get it done? Enjoy the fruits of someone else's labor with a visit to one of Oklahoma's premier pick-your-own farms, also called "U-pick." With selections that include everything from strawberries and peaches to eggplants and okra, it's a cinch to enjoy fresh-from-the-ground goodies without the topsoil talent needed to produce the perfect crop.
Fresh fruits and vegetables have always been available at local farmers' markets, but in recent years, the more hands-on approach of U-pick farms has become a popular, in-state activity.
"Working farms and ranches are opening their gates and barn doors to let travelers take in the natural beauty and experience the authenticity of Oklahoma's people," said Hardy Watkins, executive director of the Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department.
The concept is simple: Visit the farm of your choosing, arm yourself with basket or bag, and wander the rows to hand-pick a harvest.
The year's first crops are usually available in early May, with selections depending on the season. Spring tends toward berries and bedding plants, while summer brings a multitude of crops, from carrots, squash and tomatoes to cantaloupes, peaches and watermelons.
Sun Berry Orchards, 5665 N. Luther in Harrah, has been growing fruit for 10 years, beginning each April with greenhouse strawberries. Apricots and sweet cherries are available the first of June. Natchez thornless blackberries make a seasonal debut a week later, with availability through August. Summer brings peaches and white nectarines through early August.
According to Sun Berry owner Rick Dye, the farm is a well-rounded experience for visitors.
"Customers can enjoy buying fresh fruit already picked, or grab a bucket or box and head out for a U-pick experience to remember," he said.
In addition to fresh fruit, the orchard provides other activities for guests to make a day of their trip. The farm store also offers a bounty of jams, jellies and fresh honey, plus cake and pie.
"Bring the kids, Grandpa and Grandma, and a camera, and enjoy a ride in our horse-drawn wagon," Dye said.
U-pick farms and farmers markets fit into the growing category of Oklahoma attractions and activities known as "agritourism," based on the idea of farmers and ranchers allowing an insider's view of operations.
"Activities are often led by the owners and ranchers themselves, who were just a few hours earlier working cattle or harvesting their land," said Watkins. "U-pick farms are a fun, hands-on way to show kids where food comes from and how it is grown."
Two more local farms provide U-pick options. Spencer's Orchard and Greenhouses, 5528 N. Peebly Road in Harrah, has been serving up ready-to-go fruit and veggies since the 1960s. In Newcastle, TG Farms has year-round options, with strawberries and greenhouse picks in spring.
For other U-pick options, visit www.travelok.com. "Andrea Miller