U-Pick Season Is Here, and It’s Delta-licious!

Montage of 12 images of people at u-pick farm operations in the California Delta

Scenes from the Cherry Pit and Ah-May’s Strawberry U-Pick in Brentwood and Victoria Island Farms/Sabbatical distillery in Holt.

U-pick season has begun, and Northern California families are flocking to Delta farms to pick their own cherries, strawberries, blueberries, and more.

U-pick is an experience that combines a drive through the countryside, family time, tradition, fresh air, walking, perfectly ripe fruit, and connections with the farmers who produce America’s food.

It’s farm-to-table eating without a grocery store or a restaurant as middleman. And it’s the freshest fruit possible without the responsibility of managing a farm year-round.

Families we spoke with recently at the Cherry Pit in Brentwood all had stories to tell.

The Carter family came from Groveland – near Yosemite! – to continue an 11-year tradition that began when they lived in Half Moon Bay. The Gonzales family from Oakland had been picking there for 16 years, and proudly pointed out their teenage daughter, whose mother was still pregnant with her on her first visit.

Kyle and Caitlin Martin live in Brentwood and figured it was time to start checking out the local farms with their son Campbell, and they had a luscious Black Forest Cake in their future. Danny Pham and his uncle Thu Vo come at the beginning of every season, and Pham was planning to take 100 pounds of cherries back to Vietnam.

The u-pick experience is equally important to farmers, who get to forge connections – and share their world – with consumers.

Victoria Island Farms in Holt began blueberry u-pick operations in 2020 at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, when people were looking for opportunities to get outside and do things together.

“Blueberries are perfect for social distancing,” said farm co-owner and fourth-generation farmer Jack Zech. “You just send one family down each row.” Even as the pandemic waned, the program remained popular.

Financially, the u-pick operation doesn’t move the needle for the farm, Zech said. “But it makes our employees happier. They like it when people come see what they do and appreciate it. There’s a sense of pride that people come out.”

One year after the farm began u-pick, it opened a distillery – Sabbatical – that visitors can tour and shop at as well. “A lot of the older dads aren’t trying to go out there in the heat,” Zech said. The distillery, with its shaded patio, gives them another option.

For some farms, u-pick is an important part of their profitability. When customers pick their own, the farmer doesn’t have to pay for picking, packing, or shipping, said James Chinchiolo, owner of Lodi Blooms.

And he was unprepared for how popular it would be. “We get upwards of 2,000 visitors a day. The first year it happened, it scared me!”

The opportunities for agri-tourism keep growing.

In 2002, there were just 39 farms offering “agritourism and recreational services” in the six Delta counties (Alameda, Contra Costa, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Solano, and Yolo), according to the USDA Census of Agriculture.

In 2022, the count stood at 150.

Ready to start picking?

If you’re looking to visit a u-pick in the Brentwood area, there is a website dedicated to local farmers with a map and details about what’s available at each farm as various crops ripen: https://harvestforyou.com. You can also type “u-pick near me” on your phone’s map app during your next drive through the Delta.