Take Your Pick

By Christie Matheson | |

New England's growing season is short, but plenty of fruits and vegetables thrive locally. Nothing compares to the flavor of a plump blueberry plucked from the bush and popped straight into your mouth. Or an intensely colored heirloom tomato, still warm from the sun, picked at the peak of ripeness, sliced and enjoyed with a sprinkling of sea salt. Or a tiny native apple, taken right from its tree, tart and sweet and more delicious at first bite than any decadent dessert.


New England's growing season is short, but plenty of fruits and vegetables thrive locally. Nothing compares to the flavor of a plump blueberry plucked from the bush and popped straight into your mouth. Or an intensely colored heirloom tomato, still warm from the sun, picked at the peak of ripeness, sliced and enjoyed with a sprinkling of sea salt. Or a tiny native apple, taken right from its tree, tart and sweet and more delicious at first bite than any decadent dessert.

The only way to appreciate fully such inimitable taste experiences is to pick produce yourself. Pick-your-own (PYO) farms give you access to produce in its natural state—instead of from grocery bins. And like chefs who use local ingredients to create fresh flavors, you may also be inspired to create new dishes. Better still, stopping into a PYO farm supports small, local agricultural enterprises.

PYO touring is easy—no experience or special tools are required—and small farm owners are famously happy to answer questions and demonstrate picking techniques. Children are generally welcome. Pets often aren’t, though, so it’s best to call ahead to find out the details.

Here’s a look at a few of our favorite PYO farms in the area.

MASSACHUSETTS
Applefield Farm, Stow

This charming 25-acre farm, 45 minutes west of downtown Boston, harvests fruits and vegetables (call ahead to find out which are in season), as well as vibrant flowers. The Farmstand Store carries pasta, coffee and local eggs, cheese and honey. 722 Great Road (Rt. 117), 978-897-2699; www.applefieldfarm.com.

Cider Hill Farm, Amesbury
Make the best fruit salad you’ve ever tasted with Cider Hill’s summer strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, peaches and nectarines. Return again in the fall for apples, hayrides and award-winning apple cider. Cider Hill Farm sells its own jams and jellies, Stonewall Kitchen gourmet sauces and marinades, home-baked pies and maple syrup made in Amesbury, along with linens and pottery. 45 Fern Ave., 978-388-5525; www.ciderhill.com.

Coonamessett Farm, East Fal-Mouth
Pick your own mix of salad greens at this 20-acre Cape Cod farm, choosing from arugula, kale, spinach and several varieties of lettuce. (Greens from the farm’s hydroponic greenhouse are available year-round at local restaurants and markets.) In spring, summer and fall, Coonamessett has PYO beets, broccoli, tomatoes, carrots and sugar snap peas, as well as berries and rhubarb. The farm also sponsors music festivals and Jamaican dinners, and has an ice cream stand and Farm Cafe, which serves vegetarian chili, corn chowder, wraps and salads made from the farm-grown greens. 277 Hatchville Road, 508-563-2560; www.coonamessettfarm.com.

Small Farm, Stow
As its name suggests, this farm is small. But it has a big reputation for its gorgeous flowers. More than 100 varieties are available to pick. In late summer and early fall, the farm also harvests tomatoes. Corn, basil, garlic and peppers are standouts. 184 Gleasondale Road, 978-897-5996; www.small-farm.org.

CONNECTICUT
McLaughlin Vineyards, Sandy Hook

This vineyard and farm has pumpkins in October, and in late February and early March, check out maple sugaring demos at the Sugar Shack and see if you can catch a glimpse of a bald eagle gliding above the property’s 50-acre wildlife sanctuary. Year-round, visitors can taste wines made from local grapes and sample gourmet goodies in McLaughlin’s Country Store. 14 Albert’s Hill Road, 203-426-1533; www.mclaughlinvineyards.com.

NEW HAMPSHIRE
Brookdale Fruit Farm, Hollis

This quintessential country farm is open year-round, but mid-June is when the PYO season begins with fresh strawberries. Throughout summer, blueberries and raspberries are also grown. By fall, more than half a dozen varieties of crisp apples—along with pumpkins and a few late-season raspberries—are the main attractions. Rt. 130, 603-465-2240; www.brookdalefarms.com.

Monadnock Berries, Troy
From early summer through mid-September, find seasonal berries at this farm, which has one of the best vantage points in the region. Take in valley vistas of the Monadnock region (home of Mount Monadnock, one of New England’s most popular hiking destinations) while snagging blueberries, raspberries, black raspberries and gooseberries. Starting this year, the farm also offers strawberry picking. 545 West Hill Road, 603-242-6417; www.monadnockberries.com.

MAINE
Maxwell’s Farm, Cape Eliza-Beth

The strawberry season in Maine is fleeting, typically lasting from late June to mid-July—but the fruit is fabulous. Call Maxwell’s strawberry hotline at 207-799-3383 to find out when and where the berries are available; this farm has several fields in the Cape Elizabeth area. Or stop by the farm market for other seasonal produce, as well as bread, milk and flowers from the adjacent garden. 185 Spurwink Ave., 207-767-4078; www.maxwellsfarm.com.

RHODE ISLAND
Rocky Brook Orchard, Middletown

More than 25 kinds of delicious apples—from Cameo to Empire to Mutsu—are the big draw at this Newport-area orchard. Even more intriguing are the less ubiquitous fruits grown fresh and ready for picking, including pears, peaches and quince. 997 Wapping Road, 401-851-7989; www.rockybrookorchard.com.

VERMONT
Werner’s Christmas Tree Farm, Middlebury

At this quaint Vermont farm, visitors can choose and cut their own Christmas trees. Werner’s has fragrant balsam, Scotch pine, fir and spruce trees. The farm also carries pre-cut trees, wreaths, garlands and kissing balls. Visitors enjoy cookies and cocoa as post-cutting treats. 429 Painter Road, 802-388-7781; www.wernertreefarm.com.

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FARMERS’ MARKETS

Enjoy fresh produce without all the work at one of these local farmers’ markets.

Portland Public Market
Open year-round, this huge market boasts quality to match its impressive size (37,000 square feet). It focuses on products that come from Maine. In addition to fruits and vegetables, you can find bread, soup, jam and jelly, mustard, seafood, meat, flowers, coffee and spices. 25 Preble St., Portland, Maine, 207-228-2000; www.portland
market.com.

Boston Public Market
Launched in the summer of 2005, this non-profit-sponsored market—open all summer through November—is slated to grow significantly in scale and scope during the coming years. Vendors sell produce from local farms, artisan bread, fresh herbs and specialty products such as oil and jam. Old Northern Avenue Bridge, Boston, Massachusetts, 617-263-3355;
www.bostonpublicmarket.org.

West Tisbury Farmers’ Market
This Martha’s Vineyard institution is open on Wednesday mornings from late June to the end of August, and is open Saturday mornings from mid-June through the first week of October. Islanders in the know line up before the market opens at 9 a.m. for tomatoes from Caitlin Jones, greens from Whippoorwill Farm and shiitake mushrooms from North Tabor Farm, plus baked goods, jelly and flowers. Grange Hall, West Tisbury, Massachusetts, 508-693-5651.