Last weekend my husband, daughters and I decided to take a trip out to Oak Haven Farms in Sorrento, Florida to pick fresh strawberries. It had been several years since we had made the trek out there, because I’m lazy about driving long distances on the weekend. One of my coworkers, who told me about Oak Haven Farms several years ago, brought me some strawberries from there, which caused the urgency to return. They were so sweet and good that I knew that we needed to get back out there.
You would have to have been living under a rock for the past five to ten years if you haven’t heard that eating in-season, locally grown food is much better for your health. Not only that, it tastes much better. The flavor of fresh, ripe strawberries picked right off of the plant is far superior to those I could buy at any grocery store. Plus, you have the added benefit of lots more retained vitamins and nutrients. Most fruits and vegetables that you find in your grocery store were picked long before they got ripe, then they had to travel who-knows-how-far before they got there. Those factors and many others contribute to lost vitamins and nutrients.
Guess what else you are doing when you are eating local at Oak Haven Farms or any other farm or farmer’s market, for that matter? You are helping to support local (and usually organic) farmers in your community. Farming, especially on a small, non-corporate scale, is really hard work. After my attempts to farm my urban backyard, I have a new-found respect for farmers, especially organic farmers. After having my tomatoes and squash wiped out by pests, I started to understand why farmers turned to pesticides. But pesticides are poison made to kill things, and I don’t think anyone should eat poison. By trial and error, I have learned there are a few things that I can plant that needs little maintenance and no pesticides. So that’s what I stick with. But that is a different blog post.
Fortunately here in Florida, strawberries don’t need pesticides. I spoke with the owner of Oak Haven Farms, Harry Stauderman, and he told me that they don’t use pesticides. In the wet season, they might use some fungicides, he said, so that they don’t lose the whole crop. I’ll take that over the 45 pesticides that whatsonmyfood.org says can be found on conventionally grown strawberries that you would find in your grocery store.
Oak Haven Farms started out in 1996, and has grown considerably since then. They are now producing seven different wines, including a strawberry wine. When you head to the barn to pay for your strawberries (by the pound), you will find the wines, local honey, all sorts of locally made sauces, jellies and jams. They also serve strawberry shortcake, milkshakes, and hot dogs that you can roast over a fire. It’s a great family-friendly outing. There is even a playground and a hay ride type of thing around the farm. Strawberry season at Oak Haven runs from December to about mid-April. It’s always best to call before heading out for picking days and times. It’s a real farm, so weather and other factors play their part in the availability of the fruit. Visit their website at berriesandwines.com.
What if you don’t live in the Central Florida area? Well, you can plan on visiting Oak Haven Farms on your next family Disney vacation. Or, better yet, you can use your favorite search engine and see what kind of U-Pick farms you have locally. And if you don’t have any, check for local farmer’s markets. And when you go to the farmer’s markets, talk to the farmers. Make sure that what you are getting actually came from a local farm. If the produce looks too perfect, it probably isn’t from Fred’s farm. Since farmer’s markets are kind of an “in” thing right now, there have been some wiseguys who have taken advantage of the situation. I have seen people who have bought produce on the cheap at one of the big warehouse/club stores and resold it for much more at the local farmer’s market. I have also seen this set-up on the back of a pick-up truck on the side of the road. But most of the people are legit, so don’t put Farmer Fred through a whole interrogation. Use your common sense.
So get out there and pick your own fruit and veggies, support local farms and farmers, have fun with your family, and enjoy the big flavors and extra nutrition! It’s like playing with your food, in a grown-up kind of way.