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You-Pick Farms

IN THE July 20 ISSUE

FROM THE 2019 Articles,
andCommunity,
andFood Fun,
andMallory Moad
SECTIONS

by Mallory Moad

When I was a kid, something I could always count on during the summer was an excursion “out to the country” to pick produce. Peaches, strawberries, corn, and black-eyed peas were readily available at you-pick farms scattered throughout the rural areas just outside Fresno.

As Fresno grew, many of these small farms were replaced by housing developments, hospitals, and schools. The opportunity to harvest one’s own fruits and vegetables was in danger of extinction, becoming nothing more than a childhood memory. But then something happened; people started to pay closer attention to what they were eating. We became more educated about food and its effect on our health and started making positive dietary changes. We’ve become concerned over where and how what we put in our bodies is produced. Thanks to this demand for freshness, quality, and information, local you-pick farms are making a comeback. And while there may not be as many as there were when I was eleven years old, they’re thriving. food

So, motivated by a combination of nostalgia and a desire for fresh fruit, I decided it was time to return to the summer tradition of my past. An internet search revealed several farms in somewhat close proximity, of which I selected two to visit. On a late morning in June, photographer Jill Bedford and I embarked on the first leg of our journey.

Our first stop was Jackie’s Blackberries in Sanger. Hidden off the main roads, Jackie’s is a small farm, just half an acre in size. It’s a one-man operation, and that man’s name is Ron (I neglected to inquire about the identity of Jackie). Charming and affable, this Sanger native (he was born in “the old Sanger Hospital at 5th and Tate”) is happy to tell you stories about blackberries, community, and family. Having worked as a stonemason for forty years, he left an occupation he described as “hard and physical” to farm the land that has been in his family since 1925. The day of our visit, Father’s Day, held special meaning for Ron. The previous week, his son became a father for the first time. Proudly sharing photos of his new granddaughter on his phone he declared, “A new generation is beginning!”

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Ron, owner of Jackie’s Blackberries

But what about those blackberries? First of all, the berries available at Jackie’s are a thornless variety, making the pick-your-own experience practically painless. They are big – the size of walnuts, juicy (picking berries can be a messy adventure), and candy sweet. Customers are encouraged to sample the product, and we did.

Jackie’s Blackberries has a diverse clientele and is a popular destination for school field trips and family outings. While filling a bucket with ripe berries, I encountered Cari, a resident of Sanger. When asked what she planned on doing with her two flats of berries, she enthusiastically responded, “Just eat ‘em!” She had been to Jackie’s before and invited her sister, brother-in-law, and niece to join her this time around. “Produce is a big thing for me,” she says, adding that she prefers buying it locally whenever possible.

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A satisfied customer of Jackie’s Blackberries

Our second you-pick farm was Mountain Brook Ranch in Clovis, at the base of the foothills. A much larger operation than Jackie’s Blackberries, Mountain Brook Ranch offers a variety of crops, each with a different growing season, allowing it to remain open through the entire summer and into early fall.

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Apricots are available at Mountain Brook Ranch

Mountain Brook Ranch has been in business for thirty-three years. Howard, the farm’s owner, has a farming background, having been raised on a ranch in Visalia. Like Jackie’s Blackberries, this is a family operation. Howard is assisted by his daughter, son-in-law, and wife who, “does all the behind-the-scenes work” according to Howard. On the day of our visit, his granddaughter was in attendance, adding a big dose of cuteness to the sunny afternoon. That’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

Mountain Brook Ranch began as a commercial cherry orchard, the first in the Central Valley. When the farm changed to you-pick, apricots, boysenberries, green beans, peas, and pomegranates were added. Howard finds running a you-pick establishment to be more enjoyable than a large-scale operation. “This is a lot more fun than loading trucks and shipping produce,” he says with a smile. This year, you-pick flowers have been added to the mix. The colorful field of towering sunflowers, cosmos, and zinnias, complete with buzzing bumblebees, provides a perfect photo op.

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Harry Bryden’s purchase will become pies

Most of the customers at Mountain Brook Ranch have been going there for twenty-five years or longer. Moms and dads often bring their kids to show them how fruit grows on trees and vines and doesn’t just magically appear, wrapped in plastic, in a grocery store. Howard appreciates this educational approach. “That’s cool. We’re doing this for that reason, too.”

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You can pick flowers at Mountain Brook Ranch

It’s important to remember that with you-pick produce, it’s all in the timing. Unexpected changes in the weather can have an effect on the length of time any particular crop is available, so it’s always best to call ahead or check a farm’s social media page before you head out. Some of the farms can be a little tricky to find, so mapping out your directions ahead of time or using a GPS app (or both) is essential as well.

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Sweet, juicy blackberries

But most of all, have a good time. Get outside and experience nature up close, meet some cool people, hear some stories and maybe, like me, take a trip down memory lane. It’s out in the country, you know.

My name is Mallory Moad, and I believe the abundance of delicious fresh produce in the Central Valley makes the summer heat worth tolerating.

Jackie’s Blackberries can be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Jackies-Blackberries-227992137559223

Mountain Brook Ranch can be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Mountain-Brook-Ranch-162331720495927

Mallory Moad is a visual/performance artist, vocalist in the jazz band Scats on The Sly and a proud Central San Joaquin Valley native.

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