Shiny, red, sweet strawberries are one of nature’s most delightful treats. They pack a nutritional punch, too, making them the perfect pick for an early summer snack. “One cup of strawberries brings great flavor and amazing health benefits,” says Carolyn O’Donnell of the California Strawberry Commission. “Only 50 calories and low in sugar, eating eight medium strawberries may protect against heart disease, diabetes, inflammation, and cognitive decline.” Indeed a new study led by Dr. Eric Rimm, associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School, confirms that when it comes to heart health, the sooner people start a diet that includes a higher intake of strawberries — at least three servings per week — the better.
The best strawberries are always those picked fresh from the fields, and the Center for Health and the Global Environment recommends choosing produce that is as fresh … and local … as possible. (If you can’t grow your own, head to a local farm.) The center also notes that buying locally increases the chances of nutritional diversity.
In the Midwest, the strawberry season kicks off in June, but before you hit the road with baskets in hand, be sure to check the farm’s produce availability through their Facebook page or website. “We try to get along with Mother Nature, but the picking season may vary depending on the weather,” say farmers John and Sue Heider of Heider’s Berry Farm in Woodstock, Illinois. “Hot weather will cause an earlier but shorter season and will increase supply. Cold weather will cause a later start and a longer season. Picking can usually resume shortly after a rain, and because most fields are mulched, muddy ground is seldom a problem.”
There are numerous pick-your-own strawberry farms within striking distance of Chicago — all less than two hours away — that promise fields of healthy, beautiful berries.
This is a completely unexpected place to find an organic strawberry farm. Smack dab in the middle of the South Side Back of the Yards neighborhood, the Pie Patch offers a slice of country living in the middle of the urban hustle and grind. This organic pick-your-own farm offers not just strawberries ripe for the picking, but also raspberries, rhubarb, pie pumpkins, mulberries, and elderberries.
5045 S. Laflin St.
The Heider family has been growing berries at this picture-perfect farm for more than five generations. Pick your own strawberries early summer; u-pick raspberries are ripe and ready for the picking late summer. The farm also grows rhubarb (available May-June) and cherries (July). Plan on grabbing a few jars of farm-made jam to go.
1106 N. Queen Anne Road
Located in scenic McHenry, Illinois, about 50 miles from Chicago, Stade’s Farm Market boasts acres of excellent strawberry picking; you can also pack your baskets with u-pick raspberries, tomatoes, apples, and pumpkins. The farm’s full-service market, open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., offers a large variety of in-season fruits and vegetables as well as fresh-baked goods, salsas, spices, soup mixes, eggs, honey, and more. Opening in early fall 2018, the farm’s Farmtractions park, with colorful rides geared towards little ones, and a petting zoo, makes it the perfect spot to while away an early summer afternoon with the entire family.
3709 Miller Road
It’s easy to get lost among Thompson Strawberry Farm’s 20-plus abundant acres of strawberries. And with a price of just $9 per four-quart basket, you’ll want to gather as many berries as you can. Strawberry shortcake, strawberry pie, strawberry smoothies … the sweet possibilities are endless. In late August, pick-your-own raspberries; pumpkins are ready for the picking in the fall, just in time for Halloween and Thanksgiving pies. Don’t have the time to pick your own basket? Pre-picked baskets are available for purchase at $15 per four-quart basket.
14000 75th St.
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Amy Bizzarri is a Chicago-based freelance writer focused on food and travel. She has a keen interest in Chicago history and is the author of “111 Places in Chicago That You Must Not Miss” and “Discovering Vintage Chicago.” Amy is also a proud member of [email protected], a movement that works to ensure children around the globe have access to the vaccines they need.