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Farm Tour Diaries: Get Your U-Pick On!

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I’m from Massachusetts, and for us New Englanders autumn is a special season. The air is brisk, and the leaves are splashed with magnificent reds, oranges, and yellows like a Monet painting. On the weekends, it is not uncommon to drive up to the orchards of Vermont and New Hampshire with an empty bag and a ravenous stomach, ready for a day of apple picking.

After moving to Southern California, the land of eternal summer, I didn’t expect to find any apple orchards. Via Facebook, I’d hear from my friends back home about how beautiful autumn is in Boston (it really is!), and they would update their statuses as “going apple picking this weekend!” or “heading to my favorite orchard in the White Mountains to get some apples!”

I was green with jealousy. “Okay, I am not going to let them have all the fun,” I said. So I got on my computer and did some research for pick-your-own farms in the Los Angeles area. I came across Brian Ranch Airport U-Pick Orchard in the high desert of Llano, Calif. Their website said they have apples, pears, and Asian pears. “Apples in SoCal?” I admit I was surprised.

Time to get my u-pick on.

On a Saturday morning, I left a rainy and cool Los Angeles and headed northeast, around the Angeles National Forest and into the Antelope Valley. As I drove away from the city, the cloud-covered skies slowly gave way to abundant sunshine, blue skies, and warm temperatures. This was the perfect day to go apple picking.

I drove down the mile-long dirt road into the farm where I met up with Felice Apodaca, who runs the farm with her husband. Felice was warm and friendly. As we talked about farming, a perpetual smile beamed across her face. You could tell she loved her job.

She took me on a tour of the farm on her golf cart. We passed by tree after tree blushing with the vibrant color of ripe fruit, just perfect to eat right from the source.

“We get a lot of families, youth groups, and scouts . . . it’s a lot of fun and they really enjoy it!” Felice told me. “If the kids are a little older, we get a little more into how we grow and what we do, but the little kids just love to reach out and grab the fruit and eat it right away.”

Indeed. Taking the kids to a pick-your-own farm is a fun way to learn about how their food is grown. It’s a way to show them that food is not just a product you buy from the grocery store.

We drove past a tree bearing Gala apples. Felice stopped the golf cart and picked one. She handed it to me. I noticed the humble size of the apple; they’re not the jumbo-sized behemoths you’ll find at your local grocer. But what it lacked in size, it made up for in taste. The apple packed such a wonderfully sweet taste. The flavors blossomed.

Felice and I got to talking about the benefits of buying local produce. “The farmers’ market movement is just huge,” she quipped. “People want to know they are getting a quality product. They are looking for taste and nutrients and they want to make sure their food is not over-processed. But taste is king!”

As the tour ended, Felice handed me an empty bag  and gave me an open invitation to pick as much fruit as I wanted. I roamed the orchard like a kid in a candy store, stuffing my bag with as many apples as would fit. I think a pie is in the works.

—Anthony Howard, Editorial Intern

For new ways to cook with apples, check out VT‘s 1 Food 5 Ways: Apples.