Take Your Pick: Berry Picking Near Chicago

Sure, the supermarket is convenient for picking up piles of summer berries, but nothing beats heading out to the fields for a day to pick your own.

Aside from being your own quality control, these fruits are typically richer in taste, and you’re supporting community agriculture and local farms. Remember to call ahead before making the trek to any of these farms because all crops depend on the volume of visitors and weather. Happy picking!

Thompson’s Berry Farm
Driving time: 45 minutes

The Thompson family has been growing strawberries in Kenosha for more than 70 years, plus a pick-your-own operation for the past 50 years. They currently farm about 100 acres and will have 20 acres of strawberries available for picking this year. The season typically starts in mid-June and runs through July 4. Red raspberries will be available starting early August. Make sure to bring your picking baskets if you return and you’ll get $0.25 off each 4-quart basket. 14000 75th Street Bristol, WI, 262-857-2353; Hours: Monday-Friday: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.


Garden Patch Farms
Driving time: 1 hour

Strawberries aren’t the only things available for picking from the fields at Garden Patch—rasberries, kale, broccoli and kohlrabi are also among the produce currently sprouting and ripe for the picking. There’s a $5 entry fee, and all produce is priced by the pound. Owned by the Hiller family since 1938, Garden Patch Farms and Orchard is a great option for those who are looking for more than your average berry farm. 14154 W. 159th St., Homer Glen, IL, 708-301-7720; Hours: Monday-Saturday: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.


Knutson’s Country Harvest
Driving time: 1.5 hours

Family-owned and operated, Knutsons offers pick-your-own strawberries, blueberries, peaches, blackberries, and much more. They also offer tours of their hydroponic growing systems and special events, including hay rides and tours of their beehives. Jams, jellies, pickles, syrups and homemade pies are also available for sale. 13550 Townhouse Rd., Newark, IL, 815-557-4629; Hours: Monday-Friday: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Saturday: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday 1-4 p.m.


Olive Berry Acres
Driving time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

A baby in the world of pick-your-own, Olive Berry Acres was established in 2005. They offer asparagus, several varieties of strawberries and more than 10 types of raspberries. U-pick strawberries cost $2.25 per pound and pre-picked products are sold by the unit. Admission is free. 2575 W. Mine Road, Mazon, IL, 815-474-6511; Hours: Monday: Closed; Tuesday-Friday: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.


Homestead Orchard
Driving time from Winnetka: 1 hour, 15 minutes

A working farm since 1839, Homestead Orchard offers 20 varieties of apples throughout the fall, pie cherries, pears and red raspberries for picking. Handcrafted beeswax candles, glassware, antique furniture and all-natural clover honey from the orchard beehives are also available for sale. Homestead is in the process of grafting several kinds of heirloom apples, some of which date back to the 1700s and are good for everything from pie-making to eating plain. 11802 Charles Rd. Woodstock, IL, 815-338-7443; U-pick orchard hours: Monday-Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday: noon to 5 p.m.


Stade’s Farm and Market
Driving time: 1 hour

First established as a dairy farm in 1977, Stade’s has grown to produce a host of fresh produce throughout the years, including peaches, rhubarb, squash and more. Stade’s only offers pick-your-own strawberries, but there’s tons of other farm produce available throughout the year. Don’t miss the Old Time Country fair July 20-21 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., featuring the season’s first roasted sweet corn. There will be a donut whistle game, sack races, bale throwing, live music and “old time country fun.” 3709 W Miller Rd., McHenry, IL, (815) 675 6396; Open daily: 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.


Harvest Time Orchards
Driving time: 1 hour

Family owned for more than 50 years, Harvest Time Orchards specializes in tree fruits (cherries, apples, apricots and nectarines). Pick your own is usually available when the fruit is in season. Red-Tart cherries (perfect for pies) are available for picking during the weekends in July. Pick-your-own apples are available Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Harvest time also sells brats, donuts, gourmet ham and bacon and select Wisconsin cheeses. Cider is made most weekends in September and October. Call in advance for red-tart cherry picking; some years the season lasts for a few weekends, but it can be much shorter. 36116 128th St., Twin Lakes, WI, 262-877-4831; Hours: July: Weekends only, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; August: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; September and October: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.


Worth the drive:

Plow Creek Farms
Driving time: 2.5 hours

Although they’re not certified organic, Plow Creek Farms makes a point of using as few pesticides as possible and being environmentally responsible in its growing practices. Pick-your-own crops include strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries. Also available for purchase (pre-picked) are sweet corn, tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe and many other crops. Don’t miss out on concord grapes available from late summer through early fall and honey made from the bees who pollinate the berries. 19183 Plow Creek Road, Unit 2, Tiskilwa, IL, 815-646-4862; Hours vary each day; find details online.


Now that you’ve got plenty of berries, try this recipe for Buttermilk Corn Muffins with Fresh Strawberries.


Editor’s note: Driving time is based on Winnetka, a central North Shore location. Depending on your address, you may need to add or subtract a few minutes.


Photo: Strawberries harvested by Bigstock