Strawberry season usually starts in April around the Sacramento region. Not this year! Strawberry farms are open and farmer’s markets are already bursting with my favorite berries! It took us by surprise as we drove by our local strawberry farm this weekend and saw families out amongst the rows of spring plants excitedly picking.
Growing up in Marin County we had a small strawberry patch in our backyard. I would spend hours staring at our little garden waiting for green strawberries to turn to red and usually I would pick them mid-ripening because the anticipation was too much for me to handle. There is nothing like homegrown strawberries. Nothing. You know how grocery store strawberries are thick skinned and semi sweet? Homegrown strawberries, because they don’t have to be packaged and shipped around are picked at the peak of ripeness (unless you are five and can’t wait a moment longer) and are different varieties with thinner skin and juicier fruit. A strawberry picked right out of the garden is oozing with sugary sweetness and is so tender it practically melts in your mouth. The only way to get a berry like this, without growing your own, is to visit a local strawberry farm. Just do it. Trust me.
There are two strawberry farms that my family likes to visit each year. One is in Yolo County near Davis and one is in El Dorado County in El Dorado Hills close to our home. In between these two farms are approximately 95 strawberry stands scattered around the Sacramento metropolitan area.
My absolute favorite strawberry farm is Pacific Star Gardens near Davis in Woodland. I first heard about Pacific Star Gardens when I worked at UC Davis and some of my students talked about it. Only in Davis would college students spend their weekend strawberry picking and then come back to school on Monday and tell their boss about their adventures. I love Davis. Pacific Star Gardens is located on a sleepy county road in between Davis and Woodland. It is sometimes manned and sometimes unmanned so it’s cash only. I think this is the first farm I ever visited that had a money box and used the honor system. I had just moved to Davis and the concept of having a money box right out in the open was so mind blowing I could hardly contain my excitement and all faith was again restored that humanity wasn’t deteriorating as quickly as I feared. Driving to the farm takes quick reflexes and patience. The farm comes up quickly and just as quickly disappears so keep a watch out for signs and drive carefully. Pulling off the road there is a small dirt parking area and a covered farm stand that also features eggs, berries and vegetables as they become available. Strawberries are $3/lb. or $15 a bucket (provided by the farm) and are certified organic. Restrooms are not available. The farm is tot friendly and hoards of families can be found on peak days and times so try to visit during the cooler morning hours to get prime first pick.
The closest strawberry farm to my home is El Dorado Natural Farms. A recent neighbor that just started offering you pick strawberries along with other offerings last year. I loved seeing this farm start operations because they are less than five minutes from my house and have easy on and off access from Highway 50. They are a sustainable farm and use natural farming practices in all they do. They have events throughout the year and are becoming one of the most family-friendly places in El Dorado Hills for friends to gather during the growing season. Because this farm is located right off the Bass Lake Rd. exit on Highway 50 it’s the perfect stop off going to or from South Lake Tahoe or Apple Hill. Strawberries are $3/basket for you pick and there is also a farm stand if you don’t have time to pick yourself. The farm is only open weekends for now and as production ramps up, open daily. The owners and employees are friendly and informative and the facility makes it easy to pick strawberries at the only fruit, vegetable and chicken farm on the Western Slope of El Dorado County.
El Dorado Natural Farm
Picking open 10:00 am-4:00 pm, weekends
1941 Old Bass Lake Rd.
El Dorado Hills, CA
Pacific Star Gardens
Open 8:30 am to 7:00 pm, daily
20872 County Road 99
Pacific Star Gardens Facebook Page
Do you have a favorite you pick strawberry farm? Tell us about it! We would love to feature it in a later post.