Above photo by Tiffany DeAntonio.
For families who care about supporting local farmers, reducing carbon footprints and enjoying fresh, seasonal produce, pick-your-own farms are a terrific experience. When kids get their hands dirty plucking fresh fruit from bushes and trees, they will better understand where food comes from and how it grows.
Here are seven Pittsburgh farms where kids can play farmer and have a lot of fun, too. All suggest calling ahead to ensure availability.
1. Triple B Farms
The owners at Triple B Farms have welcomed families to the fresh country air and verdant fields of their Monongahela farmstead since 1985.
Strawberries are just about done at Triple B Farms, but little pickers can pluck blueberries and raspberries from bushes and fill boxes and buckets with their delicious plunder. Plump blueberries last about a month on the bushes, while raspberries are only at their prime for about three weeks.
In late July through early September, peaches ripen and are ready to be picked. Triple B usually plans a weekend for pick-your-own peaches, so watch the calendar for updates. By September, apples are ready for kids to pick, followed by pumpkins in late September. Bonus: Depending on the distance to the picking fields, you might score a hayride shuttle.
Watch for special events like the Blueberry Festival and Peach Festival, which bring mile-high pies, special lunch menus and activities. But pick-your-own fruits are just part of the family appeal at Triple B.
On weekends, the Pop’s Farmyard space offers a massive collection of fun pursuits. Visit the Bee Barn, where a Plexiglas window allows visual access to the inner workings of a beehive. The entire family acts as game pieces in a giant farm-themed board game. A spinner directs players on how many jumps to move.
You’ll find hillside tunnels and tube slides named after the Liberty and Squirrel Hill tunnels. The Rompin’ Rope Maze helps burn off energy. And everyone loves the animals — pygmy goats at the Goatfield Street Bridge, along with chickens, rabbits and a potbellied pig.
And be sure to stop by the market for their amazing fudge!
2. Soergel Orchards
The Soergel family started planting apple trees in 1850 when John Conrad Soergel arrived here from Germany. A small farm stand was just the beginning. Soergel Orchards in Franklin Park has kept up with the times, growing and developing as a source for fresh produce, plant greenhouses and a fantastic market and café, along with an Arsenal Cider satellite taproom.
Pick-your-own farm visits – which started here about 30 years ago – have become a tradition for many local families. Strawberries are just finished, but blueberries are in the spotlight now and expected to last through July and August. Pick apples and pumpkins in September and October.
Kids have fun racing through the farm area, petting zoo and Tiny Town recreation spaces, which are free of charge whenever the market is open. The café and food market sell ice cream treats, snacks, and meals – plus lots of specialty products and baked goods to take home.
Check the calendar for fun farm events – like corn roasts and weekly story times – beyond pick-your-own.
3. Norman’s Orchard
The Norman family started production at their farm in 1958, eventually specializing in the heirloom fruit for which Norman’s Orchard is known. Even though the farm lacks kid-focused attractions, families flock to Norman’s for its unique specialty fruit that can’t found in stores.
Look for both sweet cherries and tart cherries, which are rare in this region. They’re both available now, along with blueberries. Pears – seckel, Lincoln, Anjou, Bosc, among others – ripen for picking mid-August through September. The many unusual varieties of apples – more than two dozen — are available at varying times from August through October. It’s the only local pick-your-own farm that offers grapes (from mid-August to early September). Watch for fuzzy, juicy peaches next month. Check the season chart for availability.
Since heirloom varieties do not store or ship well, much of Norman’s fruit needs to be eaten and cooked when fresh. Their goal is to sell everything grown in the season with leftover fruit headed to a food bank.
4. Trax Farms
Strawberry picking ended early at the 150-year-old Trax Farms, but the 2 acres of blueberry bushes, placed right behind the market, should be ripened to picking size soon. Check the Trax website and Facebook page for pick-your-own announcements. Head back in the fall to pick the perfect pumpkin with a festival of fun kids’ activities. The small playground and duck pond will catch interest, too. Watch the calendar for other events throughout the season.
The property offers lots more for grown-up shoppers with its Antique Loft, indoor and outdoor nursery, top-notch produce market, bakery, wine shop and gift shop. Kids are not forgotten here — the children’s selection of books, decorations, and other items is outstanding.
5. Snyder’s Berry Farm
At Snyder’s Berry Farm pick-your-own is all about the berries. The Chicora farm, located 6 miles north of Butler, grows 10-acres worth of strawberries, blackberries, concord grapes and elderberries, plus black, red and even yellow raspberries. Local breweries and wineries clamor for the fruit, but Snyder’s welcomes families to the fields to fill their buckets.
Bring containers for pick-your-own and stop at the porch to get them weighed before you head to the field. There are no bells, no whistles, no credit cards. Sadly, the unseasonal rain drowned and rotted most of this year’s strawberry crops, but raspberries are plump and ready for harvest. Check in at Snyder’s Facebook page for daily times and updates on produce availability.
6. Simmons Farm
You can pick the rainbow at Simmons Farm, where pick-your-own crops cover the season with strawberries, peaches, apples and pumpkins. Strawberries finished early due to the extremely wet weather. But to give that pick-your-own rainbow even more color, a more unusual feature here is pick-your-own flowers, from sunflowers to wildflowers. For a flat rate, kids are given a bucket and scissors to fill with as many stems as they can fit. Midsummer, look for aromatic peach picking, followed by crunchy ripe apples.
Bring a picnic lunch and make a family day trip of your farm outing. Kids will love the free petting zoo with a pig, sheep, goats, ducks and a turkey.
Kids can experience more in-depth life on the farm with the weekly Little Farmers Camp, which includes classes on farm machinery, the life of a seed, and the important role of water. Kids can sign up for one or all five sessions. Seeing the farm-to-table experience firsthand is an eye opener for city slicker kids.
7. Paskorz Berry Farm
Strawberries went quickly at Paskorz Berry Farm in West Deer, where little pickers already gleaned the field of fruit. But blueberries are ready to be plucked and dropped into pick-your-own buckets. Look for red and black raspberries, too. Call 724-265-3073 for fruit availability and times. And watch for fall raspberries in September.