by Jim Hazard, photo by John Cizmas Comes a day when you realize the mouse and the remote are most of what makes your life go. Your day is so damn convenient, you have no direct contact with anything around you, except maybe your couch. That is the day to set aside your collection of […]

by Jim Hazard, photo by John Cizmas

Comes a day when you realize the mouse and the remote are most of what makes your life go. Your day is so damn convenient, you have no direct contact with anything around you, except maybe your couch. That is the day to set aside your collection of remotes, leave that microwaveable “gourmet” meal in the freezer and set out to pick some field-fresh produce.

The pick-your-own experience is a hands-on day trip into the world of enjoyable inconvenience. But if you’re going to venture into the fields and orchards, call ahead. Make sure the crop you want to pick that day is ripe and ready for picking. Remember, we’re dealing with Mother Nature here, and she sets her own schedule. She may not bring forth her apples, sweet peas and berries on the day you have nothing else to do.

Sunburn, insects, a stiff back and bad weather are all possible downsides of your adventure. But the upside is mighty – a day outdoors with family or friends exploring a fresh new world. That is a psychological tonic. And the price of the produce will be economic tonic. Your crop will cost about half what you’d spend at a farmers market. A full quart of hand-picked berries costs about $6.50, compared to $3.99 for a puny half-pint at the grocery store. Most produce you pick – berries, peas, etc. – costs farmers more to pick than to grow, so picking your own brings their costs way down. (Except for apples: From blossom to fruit, they are much more expensive to nurture than to pick – there’s all that pruning and spraying to do.)

Barb Waldron is the owner of WCC Farm in Franksville, and like most farmers, she’s a philosopher. Her philosophy turns on the idea of where food comes from. It’s a value you find espoused by the Slow Food movement and by writers like Eric Schlosser and Anthony Bourdain. Says Waldron, “It’s an idea that’s on the rise. Know and see how and where food grows.” And pick when it’s the very freshest. “You will never get a berry this fresh in a market, not even a farmers’ market.”

Beyond that, she notes, is a world of experience: “It’s the setting – the farm animals, the fields and birds – all around you are lots of beautiful things most people just don’t see on a normal basis.”

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And who are these people who drive out to the farm fields to experience the ultimate in freshness? Growers say most fall into two groups – the big-load bunch and your family funsters.

The big loaders take orders from friends and family before they set out on their produce run. They call ahead to make sure conditions are … ripe. At the farm, they work hard and fast, loading up large containers at bargain prices. They often pick as much as 50 to 75 pounds of berries, rushing them home to be distributed, cleaned and frozen. They comprise a small, seasonal public service industry, a green wave in the front line of the Eat Fresh, Eat Local movement.

The family funsters are also after freshness and economy, but for them, it’s all the byproduct of a good old-fashioned family get-together in the country. It’s far more spontaneous. They’ll get their picking done, of course, but you can bet they’re going to take time for the kids to get some education in the ways and means of farm life, and they’ll often end the day with a picnic right there on the farm.

As for this writer, I went to the farm solo – planning neither to make deliveries nor have a picnic. My life away from the home turf has been generally lived in libraries, jazz clubs and city streets. As a lad, thepicking I learned from my grandfather was how to pick a horse from the morning line in the Chicago Trib.What is this picking goodies you can buy in a store all about, I wondered.

So I drove to Kansasville. Because I liked the name. Then I pulled into Walvoord Farm, drawn by the big pop-art strawberries on the roadside signs. And that’s when things began to get serious. The air of Walvoord Farm was mouthwatering: It smelled so completely of strawberries, I felt like I’d walked inside a berry.

Heady stuff to breathe in, but I was soon drawn in a different direction. I wanted to pick sugar peas. A fresh sugar pea is a rare moment in time – a small green thing whose season is short, whose ripeness is evanescent.

The pea field was a jumble of green vines growing under a mess of tall, yellow hawkweed (I think). Minimum tillage, it’s called. I paused at the field’s edge. “How do I do this?” I asked the college girl (UW-Madison, engineering) who was in charge. “If it looks like a pea, pick it,” she said. Kansasville Zen.

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Gary Walvoord, whose fields supply Sendik’s and V. Richards, drove up on his blue ATV, delivering more wisdom. “Never pick close to the parking lot,” he advised. “Walk to the end of the field and into the middle, where most pickers are too lazy to go. That’s where the sweet ones are. And … sample while you pick.” He gave me a lift on the ATV to the end of the field, we walked into the middle, saw what looked like a pea, picked it and – bit into it.

That first bite gave me another chapter in the Book of Kansasville Sugar Pea Wisdom: “If it tastes like heaven, it is.”

Come fall, I’ll see how the theory works in the apple orchards.

Below is a list of possible escapes from the ordinary, with the emphasis on real farms. Do call before you hit the road – and heed your mother’s advice about sunblock. Finally, and this is most important, remember to take Gary Walvoord’s advice. Sample.


Apple Barn Orchard and Winery
W6384 Sugar Creek Rd., Elkhorn, 262-728-3266
Strawberries early, apples and pumpkins late. Also, a reward for earnest picking – a winery. Opens in June.

Barthel Fruit Farm
12246 N. Farmdale Rd., Mequon, 262-242-2737
Strawberries, snap peas and sugar peas early. In fall, apples, pumpkins and plums. Supplement your picking with a farm store.

Basse’s Taste of Country
3190 County Line Q, Colgate, 262-628-2626
Opens mid-June, closes Thanksgiving. In mid-June, strawberries and peas. July and August: apples and veggies. September and October: pumpkins, gourds and apples.

Jelli’s Market
N5648 S. Farmington Rd., Helenville 262-593-5133
A pick-your-own farm. Strawberries and peas in June, farm open through fall harvest. Website updated daily for pickers.

Fideler Farm
2863 Ridge Rd., Kewaskum, 262-338-0494
Opens mid-June with strawberries, snap peas and Chinese snow peas early, raspberries late. Store has peas and berries, freshly prepared jams, jellies, preserves, pies and a bakery.

Nieman Orchards
9932 Pioneer Rd., Cedarburg, 262-377-4284
The “Old Red Barn” offers 40 varieties of apples and pears, sweet corn and pumpkins in September and October. Sales room also has many items.