The fresh-picked berry is sweet. But sweeter still is the toiling under the hot sun, no water or shade in sight, stooping over bushes for hours and hours, braving sunburn and bug bite, in quest of the quintessential quart.
OK, not everyone gets it. In June, The News ran a story on U-pick farms in Niagara County. And one comment read:
“FYI. It’s easier to stop at one of the roadside stands and buy them already picked for you. Why would you want to pay to pick your own?”
Because here in Western New York, you just must.
With that in mind, three of us trekked on a recent 85-degree Monday to Greg’s U-Pick in Clarence. It is a magical thing about Buffalo, which is that within 20 minutes, even a city dweller can get to God’s country. Greg’s U-Pick is on ancient-sounding Lapp Road. You’ll know where to turn off Transit when you see a hair salon creatively called Curl Up and Dye.
At the farm, we followed signs reading: “U-Pick Cars Park In back.” Back we drove, until we were surrounded by fields.
Greg’s staffers advised that there were just a few strawberries left, and not yet blueberry time. No matter; there were a lot of U-pickers and, clearly, a lot of strawberries. One woman was leaving with a full $30 flat of eight quarts. We asked her how long she was picking. “Maybe 40 minutes,” she shrugged.
Experienced U-pickers bring their own quart baskets. Being newbies, we used the farm’s, which would cost a little extra at checkout. We trudged into the fields. Soon we were sweating like sharecroppers.
What made this fun? Between U-picking and U-eating (shhh) the berries, I had ample time to think this over.
I hadn’t gone U-picking since I was a kid. I had forgotten how peaceful it is. You fall into a meditative rhythm. The sun makes you sleepy. I loved the stillness, the rustle of the breeze, the singing of birds I didn’t recognize.
Maybe this depends on the day, but the job was not at all dirty or muddy. It also was not buggy, although my friend Ryan found, on the underbelly of one berry, a slimy slug. Gross!
“They should have used more pesticide,” he joked.
Sunscreen is a good idea. One woman in a halter dress looked like a big strawberry. But jeans are not a must. I wore a skirt and got away with it. Little girls turned out in pretty dresses and sun hats.
U-pick fields attract a wide range of folks, all ages and ethnicities. There is not an iPhone in sight. Instead you talk about summer stuff: ‘smores, bugs, thunderstorms, jam, pie.
The supreme pleasure is, of course, the fruit of your labors. It’s warm from the sun and sweet as the day is long.
“You know you’re really getting the freshest of the fresh,” said Cheri Kwiatek, working the fields with her two small sons.
One son praised the berries even more eloquently.
He announced: “I’m going to eat them and eat them and eat them until I have a tummy ache!”
I came home with six quarts, and would have come home with more had my friends not wimped out in the heat. Instead of simply eating my haul, as children do in their wisdom and innocence, I made strawberry ice cream. I made so much that it outgrew my machine and my kitchen turned into a frothy, pink pool. U-pick became U-clean. Not to mention U-diet.
But was it worth it? Sure it was.
Not for the money. Ryan, who works for UB’s Purchasing Department, calculated that a U-picker’s savings add up to $10 an hour. No, when you U-pick, do it for the love.