It's More than just Picking your Own Food

There are few things as basic and essential to human life as food. Another basic need is family. So it makes sense that when you combine food and family great things happen.

Much has been made in recent years about the importance of families eating dinner together. It provides a chance for everyone to come together, talk about their day, and interact with each other.

The other part of dinner time that has been the focus of millions of words over the past few years is the desire for people to know where their food comes from. The local food movement continues to grow, and thankfully farmer’s markets are sprouting up in towns across the country. It’s probably easier to find local food today than in any time since the disastrous western industrial food era began.

Today I enjoyed one of my favorite family activities, and it just so happens to involve food.

We went raspberry picking.

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If you’ve never gone to a farm and picked your own food, you’re really missing out. Backyard gardens are fantastic, and provide the same type of benefit, but they also require a fair amount of talent, patience and commitment. We’re more than a century removed from the time when most people grew their own food, and we’ll never return to those days. But picking your food at a local farm is the next best thing.

Luckily, u-pick is becoming more popular as the local food movement grows. My family and I make frequent trips to Garwood Orchard, a family farm in LaPorte that’s been farming for six generations. Despite the name, Garwood offers much more than apples.

Our trips to Garwood begin in early June with the strawberry harvest. Next up are blueberries, raspberries, pickles, green beans, bell peppers and hot peppers. And that’s all before apple picking season even begins! In addition to the seventeen different varieties of apples available throughout September and October there’s also tomatoes, tomatillos, and eggplant. There are more pumpkins and squash than you can shake a stick at. Unfortunately, Mother Nature ruined this year’s cherry, nectarine, peach and plum u-pick crops.

Incredible things happen on our outings to pick our own food. When kids see where the food comes from, they’re enthusiastic about it. Most kids have never seen cherries hanging from a tree, or a bush so full of raspberries that the branches are hanging down toward the ground. And they’ll never have green beans as tasty as the ones they picked from the plant.

We’ve become so separated from our food sources that it’s easy to forget how those pickles ended up in the jar, or that pizza sauce doesn’t magically appear in a sealed can. Going out to the field and seeing the vines, bushes, and trees on which these fruits and vegetables grow, looking at the flowers that will become fruit, tasting the freshness of something attached to a plant until you picked it and put in your mouth, reminds us just how basic to our existence our food is.

Or how basic it should be.

While we meandered the acres of berries, peppers and pickles today, crews of workers bent over and harvested the same fruits and vegetables that we picked. There’s a market at Garwood that sells produce already picked for you.

It occurred to me that a cynic might laugh at us for essentially paying Garwood to allow us to work for them. However, even if we didn’t pay less for the u-pick items than the items in the market—which we do—I wouldn’t mind. Getting into the fields, seeing the plants, feeling the sunshine, and hearing the still silence of a rural farm is worth something.

And teaching my kids that those apples they love so much actually began as buds before becoming flowers, and then small apples, is worth something. Letting them experience the sometimes-difficult work of picking enough raspberries to fill a container is worth something. Teaching them the difference between bell peppers that are ripe versus those that need a few more days is worth something. Teaching them the proper way to pick an apple without damaging a branch is worth something.

Reminding them of the importance of our food and not to take it for granted is worth something.

But the experience of doing it together, as a family, is priceless.

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