In these COVID-19 times, while our wanderlust minds may be elsewhere, most of our physical bodies stick close to home (and rightly so). But if your feet still itch to move, don’t overlook options to explore locally.
Nearby eco-destinations teem with wildlife (bird-lovers, this may be a place for you); promote social distancing; offer budget-friendly, short, even just-before-work trips; and provide freebie snacks!
Sound like a mini adventure that you’d consider? Now is a great time to investigate the “u-pick” farms near you. These farms – more prevalent in the United States, Australia, and western European countries – seasonally open their gates and offer fresh produce to visitors.
And this current season may offer the sweetest bounty yet: a break from the stress of the grocery store, a pause from the washing of each item upon arriving home, and a safe spot to venture outside.
U-pick farms often provide strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, gooseberries, peaches, citrus and cherries, to name a few. Let’s not forget our vegetables: kale, asparagus, garlic, carrots, cabbages, and eggplants, among others. Non-edibles may include sunflowers and wildflower bouquets. You can even stock up at u-pick nut farms!
Benefits include enjoying time outside with wildlife sightings (birds are frequent competition at the berry patches), soaking in Vitamin D, picking what produce looks best, snacking here and there (to ensure that the cherries you’re picking are the best in the orchard, of course), and socially-distancing with friends while being productive! But there are even deeper benefits just around the corner…
Adopting local eating habits allows us, as consumers, to make the key decision to better connect to our food. Visiting a farm offers us a lens into the growing practices behind what we are putting into our bodies and food that best nourishes ourselves is also food that nourishes the Earth.
Buzzwords such as organic, permaculture, biodynamic, holistic, no-till, or ecological indicate a u-pick farm that is more likely to be on the right track to nurturing the earth alongside its commercial production. (Take all labels with a grain of salt!)
Supporting farms that engage in sustainable practices cultivates a cleaner plate. Some produce is more likely to have repeat applications of pesticides, as the US-based Environmental Working Group (EWG) has discovered.
Each year, the EWG publishes a list of a so-called Dirty Dozen, US produce that despite having been washed and prepped as if it will be eaten soon, repeated tests show that the produce is still coated with high levels of pesticide residue. Topping the 2020 list? Strawberries, an easy snack to find in u-pick farms.
The dirtiest? 90% of EWG-tested strawberries contain 2+ pesticides.
High levels of pesticides create adverse human health issues (as showcased here in Brazil, #2 globally for chemical pesticide application) and notably, in the UK, there are recent calls to halve pesticide use due to the loss of insects, considered a tipping point in the conservation world.
Visibility into growing practices through visits to local farms and close contact with u-pick farmers initiates an understanding between our plate, our bodies, and our surrounding local environment.
Growing practices aside, food miles, or how far edible products travel to reach our plate, have long been a source of strength in a growing movement of “locavore” eating. A locavore is defined as someone who is committed to eating regionally-cultivated food as much as possible (see: ThoughtCo).
Internationally, nations with fewer massive chain grocery stores tend to rely on local markets that bring produce from nearby farms, which consistently calibrate to local climate and growing conditions, creating small food mile footprints and a variable supply of certain seasonal items. But in the Global North, food choices are bountiful even out-of-sync with seasons, creating higher footprints.
The Guardian published an article on UK food miles, with apples traveling 10,133 miles from United States, noting that nutrients deteriorate with longer trips which, of course, also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
Eating both locally and seasonally as much as possible ensures that as an empowered local eco-tourist, your conscious decision to connect with your food and surrounding community extends benefits far beyond your plate.
During stressful financial times, supporting a neighborhood farm helps out communities with local money circulation. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance created an evidenced-based summary of peer-reviewed studies of communities in Canada and the United States, showcasing that money spent at local businesses generally results in a cycle of further spending in the community, roughly doubling the economic value of the same dollar spent at chain stores (see 3: Economic Returns).
On a different note, if you happen to have a household full of small energetic bodies, a visit to a farm is a great educational and play opportunity for children. A study by Cornell University has shown that outdoor play, particularly before age 11, is a strong indicator of a future conservationist mindset. Although traveling may be limited now, children quickly become the next generation of eco-travelers!
To find a place near you:
- Rifle through a copy of the local magazine that most libraries circulate; these magazines frequently market nearby u-pick farms.
- Chat at the farmer’s market to easily find new u-pick adventures!
- Check out the local farmer supply store notice board.
- Still no luck? Have a Google or Facebook group search. Here’s a few sites to start you off: U-Pick Farm Locator (US), Pick Your Own Farm (UK), or Pick Your Own (additional international farms).
A few tips for a safe and happy trip:
- Bring water, a hat, a mask, and sunblock to cover all the bases. If allowed, bring your own container to take home produce and reduce waste.
- Always call the u-pick farm ahead of time. Daily voice recordings provide details on what is readily available, quantity estimates, best times to come and weather updates.
- Visit the farm website to learn about its environmental practices. As possible, choose u-pick farms that follow sound environmental practices in order to encourage local eco-tourism that is responsible towards the planet, people, and wildlife.
- Respect the farm: be careful what you pick and pay attention to recommendations provided. Don’t waste produce by picking what you don’t want.
- Go as early as possible. Being early means less people, more produce, and avoidance of the hottest part of the day. Bonus: it often allows for this mini-adventure to be finished up even before work!
Enjoy! Share comments about your picking adventures, local eco-tourist!
P.S. Eastern United States blackberries are just ripening now…
After you’ve checked out your local u-pick farms and your wanderlust kicks in, discover how ecotourism operator Inglorious Bustards promotes sustainable food.