There are all kinds of reasons you and your family should go picking at a local farm. It’s outdoors. It supports local farmers. It’s fun. You’ll have delicious, fresh bounty to enjoy.
And in these times, it can be a salve to the soul.
“I’ve had some particularly poignant conversations with people in the past week as they seem deeply touched by simply being out at the farm, watching the grass blow in the breeze, seeing the clouds whipping by, or just watching the honeybees around the raspberry flowers,” says Ann Harris, owner of Autumn Hills Orchards in Groton.
Here are five pick-your-own farms that are less than an hour’s drive from Boston. Be sure to consult individual websites for current hours and COVID-19 safety guidelines.
Cider Hill Farm, Amesbury
This pretty farm, owned and managed by three generations of the Cook family, stretches over 165 rolling acres, filled with healthy crops. Take a hike out to the picking fields for blueberries, available now into August, and peaches and raspberries into September. Apple and pumpkin picking follow into fall.
There’s a play area for kids, and a barnyard where you can feed the goats and chickens. But the standout may well be the country store, filled with fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs, homemade jams, and honey from their own 30-year-old beehives. Don’t leave without having one (or three!) of their homemade apple cider doughnuts. 978-388-5525, www.ciderhill.com
Autumn Hills Orchard, Groton
We would go here just for the views. The orchard, which has been around for 60 years, reaches over three hills with fabulous vistas. Wear sturdy shoes and climb to the top of the hills for a look across southern New Hampshire, Wachusett, Monadnock, and Wataitic mountains.
But you came for fruit picking, right? There are some 4,000 fruit trees, including more than 25 varieties of apples. There’s also blueberry, raspberry, apple, and pear picking. There’s a nice, old-fashioned feel to the place; the owners greet you, and when you’re done picking, you’ll head to the outdoor canopy or barn to weigh your fruit on a really cool antique scale. There’s also a small honor-system farm stand. 978-448-8388, www.autumnhillsorchard.com
Parlee Farms, Tyngsboro
This 93-acre farm buzzes with activity. There are more than 60 farm animals in Annie’s Animal Barns, including the crowd favorite: nine baby goats, along with adult goats, sheep, and bunnies. At Farmer Mark’s Tractor Training Course (opening in late July), kids can drive a mini electric tractor around a track.
Head out to the fields to pick your own fruit, including blueberries, cherries, peaches, apples, and pumpkins, depending on the season. Along with your fruits and veggies, take home a fresh-cut flower bouquet. On your way out, stop by Mary’s Country Kitchen for apple cider doughnuts and other fresh baked goods. There’s also warm blueberry crisp, strawberry shortcake, and ice cream to enjoy at one of the outdoor picnic tables. 978-649-3854, www.parleefarms.com
Smolak Farms, North Andover
Kids will love the newly-renovated animal area, with geese, peacocks, ducks, sheep, alpacas, goats, turkeys, chickens, fallow deer, and Australian swans. And the posted signage, with information about the animals, is a nice touch.
After a visit with the critters, head out to the fields where you can pick a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, including strawberries, raspberries, cherries, blueberries, peaches, plums, apples, and pumpkins — and Christmas trees — depending on the season. This year, for the first time, you can also dig for potatoes. What fun it is uncovering these underground treasures!
Stop at the farm stand, serving Smolak’s famous apple cider doughnuts (Governor Baker has used these in the past to wager on Patriots playoff games), made-from-scratch fruit pies, grab-and-go meals, and ice cream made with fresh fruit from the farm.
The farm also offers guided, small-group tours, booked in advance. 978-687-4029, www.smolakfarms.com
Hanson’s Farm, Framingham
“Low-key,” “cute,” and “great people” are some of the typical comments used to describe this small, family-owned pick-your-own farm, surrounded by residential neighborhoods. The 52-acre working farm, which has drawn generations of repeat visitors, has been around since 1715, growing more than 180 varieties of fruits and vegetables. You’ll see horses grazing in the fields, along with chickens and sheep. There’s blueberry picking in July, and blackberry picking July to August, followed by pumpkins in the fall. All season, you’ll have a chance to cut your own flowers from abundant fields. In the fall, they also have a corn maze, sunflower maze, and offer haunted hayrides. 508-877-3058, www.hansonsfarm.50webs.com
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org