03 June 2010

Illinois U-Pick

If you live anywhere in the Chicago-Champaign corridor and are looking for an opportunity to see a wonderful small farming operation, some good friends of ours from our previous town were just featured in a Chicago Tribune article. They've recently started a U-Pick for their organic strawberries (and I can testify these are some of the best on the planet.)

Three of them don't have produce ready yet. But according to farm manager Helen Aardsma, the organic strawberries at Mulberry Lane Farms in Loda Illinois are already hitting their peak; and she is taking picking appointments right now.

Aardsma said she used to have her 10 kids pick the berries but "they all keep getting married and moving away," so she's launched a big U-Pick experiment this year.

"It's a different experience," she says. "But it's so rewarding to see the look on a child's face the first time she picks her own fresh berry learns what it should taste like. We joke that the strawberries you get in the store taste more like straw than berries."

Organic strawberry operations are so scarce, Aardsma says, because they're perennials that require attention all year and a lot of weeding. But that's the kind "of quality we'd want for our own family and so that's the way we grow them."

For the next week or so, picking will be done by appointment only, but after that, it goes "open pick." Call or write for appointments and more details. U-pick strawberries cost $2.49 a pound and you must purchase a minimum of 5 lbs per two people. Be sure to read the rest of Aardsma's rules and tips before heading down to the farm so you arrive prepared.
Hard to think of a better weekend adventure than getting out to see Mulberry Lane Farm. And if you want to see an example of maximizing production through the creative use of a small piece of property, this is the place to go. If memory serves, they have only 1.5 acres or so. But their use of it is so brilliant and efficient, they get as much production as many people with ten times that acreage. For those of you who've been wanting to move to the country or have a farm, but have been concerned about finding or affording "enough" acreage, Mulberry Lane Farm shows what you can do if you're creative. It's really not about the number of acres. It's what you do with them.

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