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Can You Get Farm Fresh Food during Florida’s COVID-19 Shutdown?

By Diane Bedard Posted on April 2, 2020

I love to pick blueberries on a farm. The fresh air and healthy, natural activity bring me a real sense of peace. The delicious results give me a sense of accomplishment, and my mouth loves the taste.

So, what should I do when Florida’s Governor announces that we are to stay home for 30 days just as blueberry u-pick season is starting?

Usually, I write about the fun of picking. Choosing just the right berry. Eating a lot of samples as I fill my bucket. The camaraderie I feel when I see pickers seeking the prime fruit as I am strolling by on my side of the bush, several feet away.

Farming is hard work. Fruit farms work all year for a single payout. Farming in Florida’s Nature Coast is a family business. Image courtesy of Starkey Blueberry Farm.

Discussing farm life with the farmer is a treasure to me. I respect farmers. They are the biggest gamblers in the world, trusting God and their hard work to produce a living from the soil and seed.

Blueberry Farms offering U-pick on Florida’s Nature Coast

The following family farms are offering U-pick Blueberries in 2020 and have chosen to promote their farms with NatureCoaster.com:

Each one of these locations is a family-owned and operated farm business. Several of these u-pick farms offer pre-picked fruit, some offer vegetables, fresh-made jam, and local honey. Many of them have strawberries, blackberries, and vegetables in season for u-pick also.

Kaitlyn Casey shows a flat of strawberries grown on her family’s second-generation farm – JG Ranch in Brooksville. Her father, Jeff, is in the background making sure things are done right. Image by Diane Bedard

Food is an essential need. Fresh air is an essential need.

Is picking your own fruit in the open air an essential activity?

Only you can decide that. It sure is a good feeling to have the fresh farm air, the warm sunshine, and a butterfly flitting by while choosing the best berry on the bush. Or watching a huge black and white swallowtail kite bird fly overhead.

If you do not want to expose yourself to other pickers, you could choose to purchase pre-picked blueberries from one of these family farms in the 2020 season. Just as you would support your favorite restaurant by ordering and getting takeout so they can weather the current state of affairs, why don’t you support one of these local farms and pick up some little blue dynamos!

In fact, some of these farms are offering online purchasing with curbside pickup. How is that for convenience?

Blueberries are a superfood, rich in antioxidants and helpful to many of the human body’s systems. Image by Diane Bedard

Did you know that Blueberries are a Super Healthy Food?

Current research has determined that blueberries qualify as a superfood. The amount of unique benefits of blueberries is truly amazing.

The U.S. Highbush Association has determined that the benefits of blueberries include:

  • Cancer-fighting Antioxidants- The pigment that makes blueberries blue makes them the number one source of antioxidants which consume cancer-causing free radicals.
  • Anti-aging/Memory enhancement- Blueberries have been demonstrated to improve memory
  • Reduction of cardiovascular disease and stroke- Blueberries are rich in compounds that reduce bad cholesterol and promote cardiovascular health.
  • Infection fighting- a compound in blueberries has been demonstrated to fight urinary infection and is being considered as a pharmaceutical.
  • Improved eyesight – The European relative of the blueberry, the bilberry, has been demonstrated to improve visual acuity.
Most Nature Coast blueberry farms offer wide rows with plenty of room for social distancing in the fresh farm air. Image courtesy of Green Acres You Pick Blueberry Farm.

U-Pick Blueberry Farms offer More Space to Practice Social Distancing than Grocery Stores Do

In past years, I was a big fan of the “taste as you go” method of picking, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have chosen to be much more cautious in 2020. I pick the fruit and place it in my plastic bag inside my recently sanitized bucket, being sure not to touch my face with my fingers if it gets itchy.

One of the ways I have always enjoyed while picking blueberries on a u-pick farm is the “solitude method”, which is going by myself and staying in my own space while moving up and down the evenly spaced rows of waist-high to shoulder height bushes, searching for the right amount of blue color and ease of lifting the berry off the branch.

Ruth Davis sanitizes her buckets after every use as well as cleaning the entire purchase area with a bleach solution to ensure public safety. All U-pick farms have guidelines for ensuring COVID-19 germs are kept at bay. Image by Diane Bedard

It has always been easy to stay six to ten feet away from others – in fact, we all want to stay a ways apart because we want to find the best berries on our row – and coming along right after someone else means we get slimmer pickings.

Going picking on a farm with friends is a lot of fun, talking, laughing, tasting, and hunting for the fruit. Because I am not riding in cars with people other than my immediate household, that is a no-go for 2020.

Children that can walk and follow direction (especially the safety rules) can help gather the ripe berries while learning about where their food comes from and how it is grown. Image courtesy of Cavallo Farm and Winery.

Farms are Great Places for Families to Get their Food Together

Families with children between 3 and 18 have a prime opportunity in shopping at a blueberry u-pick farm, as long as everyone can follow the safety rules.

On a farm, children have the opportunity to learn where their food comes from, how it is grown, and why it is important for each plant to get sun, water, and nutrients to produce the optimal fruit. That is a science lesson.

In past years, many u-pick farms provided play areas, swings and picnic areas for visitors to enjoy an adventure that included picking the fruit. Some offered the opportunity to pet or feed farm animals.

For 2020, the only children’s activity on most farms is picking. Still, it is a wonderful family activity that makes memories and provides food for the family. Image courtesy of Florida Best Blueberry Farm.

For 2020, farms have closed their children’s areas and picnic areas to help protect visitors from spreading germs. That doesn’t mean that children have to be seen and not heard, however. Picking fruit on a farm is a physical activity that allows plenty of opportunities for movement and discovery.

Picking Blueberries by Myself

This year, however, any picking I do will be solo – or with my husband – because we are social distancing from anyone we don’t live with. And we will avoid getting too close to anyone else, talking from away if at all to reduce the possibility of catching the COVID-19 virus.

Picking Florida’s fresh blueberries on a Nature Coast farm is one of my annual traditions. Gathering food is a qualifying activity, and while following the COVID-19 guidelines a trip to the farm is just as safe as a trip to the grocery store. Image by Ruth Davis.

Farm Fresh Food is an Essential Need – and a Fun Activity

As I prepared for this article on the fun of blueberry picking, the United States began shutting down activities in order to contain the spread of the dangerous virus.

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of change, with events being canceled and businesses laying off workers, as well as closing or restyling how they operate. Meanwhile, the blueberries have been growing and ripening, with commercial picking moving right along.

Nature Coast U-Pick farms had to choose whether to open and provide us with fresh food or let their fruit rot on the ground. For many of these farms, this is their only, or at least their main income for an entire year.

When you pick a blueberry, pay attention to its color: it should be a dark blue or purplish color and pay attention to how the bush lets go of its fruit. If the berry doesn’t come off the bush easily, let it stay until it is fully ripened.

2020 is a good year for blueberry production, with heavily laden bushes full of fresh, healthy blueberries. Let’s get our essential food direct from the farmer this season, using the government guidelines for not spreading COVID-19 safety.

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