Make summer a little sweeter by picking your way through Chicago’s best spots for homegrown berries and other fruits and veggies. The U-Pick berry season kicks off with strawberries in June and continues through early August, with veggies cropping up now through fall. Be sure to research your farm’s produce availability through their Facebook page and website before dusting off the wagons. Scroll down for U-Picks you can’t miss!
Olive Berry Acres
The growing season begins in May with traditional green and exotic purple asparagus at this seven-acre farm 70 miles southwest of Chicago. Fresh, sweet strawberries launch the U-Pick season in June, with red and black raspberries closing it down in October. There is no entrance fee for picking and supplies are provided.
In the neighborhood: Grab a pastry to compliment your berries at Morris Bakery, browse the quaint shops in downtown Morris or hit up 3 French Hens Market held the second Saturday, May through October at Grundy County Fair Grounds. If you find yourself in the area for lunch, Letty Mae's Tea Room offers a made-from scratch menu with decor reminiscent of an English Tearoom. Enjoy your meal on vintage mismatched china surrounded by kitschy decor or have it wrapped up for a picnic on the farm.
2575 W. Mine Rd., Mazon, IL (815-474-6511). Open Wed.-Fri., 9 a.m.-2 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Online: oliveberryacres.com
Heider's Berry Farm
Five generations of family have been running this farm that had a typical Midwestern start of raising hogs, sheep and chicken and producing dairy, oats and hay. Today their focus is on quality fruit, good customer service and offering families memorable, wholesome fun. Red raspberries and strawberries make up the bulk of their U-Pick business, but they also have rhubarbs, black raspberries, cherries, gold raspberries and homemade jams. Before taking a drive to the farm, check their website or Facebook page for picking conditions. There is no admission and parking is free.
In the neighborhood: Woodstock, Illinois, was the location for many of the outdoor scenes shot for the Groundhog Day movie staring Bill Murray, so superfans can still take a peek at many of the exteriors showcased. If you’re in the area May-October on a Tuesday or Saturday morning, stop by the Farmers Market in downtown Woodstock’s historic square with vendors selling produce, knitted items, soaps, honey products, baked goods, cheese and more.
1106 N. Queen Anne Rd., Woodstock, IL (815-338-0301). Open daily, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (weather & supply permitting). Cash & check only. Online: heidersberryfarm.com
Stade's Farm Market
Stade’s is famous for their popular Shades of Autumn festival, a fall blitz featuring live music, hayrides, a petting zoo and more. Leading up to the festival, you can visit this countryside paradise for U-Pick strawberries beginning in mid-June, raspberries in July, tomatoes and a variety of summer veggies in August and pumpkins in September and October. Also available at the onsite market is homegrown asparagus, rhubarb, spinach, radishes and lettuce, as well as their privately harvested local honey.
In the neighborhood: McHenry, Illinois is known for having a bustle of activity along the Fox River, so checkout Stratton Lock & Dam and Fort McHenry Playground for picturesque outdoor fun. Authentic steam engines from the golden age of railroad are on display at the Illinois Railway Museum (if you go picking in July, double the fun with a Day Out with Thomas) and Donley’s Wild West Town cowboy theme park is always a rowdy good time.
3709 W. Miller Rd., McHenry, IL (815-675-6396). Open day is May 26, 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Online: stadesfarmandmarket.com
Tom's Farm Market
What was once a small farmstand over 40 years ago is now an expansive farm 50 miles northwest of Chicago, which includes 13 greenhouses where you can find anything from plant seedlings to hanging baskets and a bakery that features freshly baked seasonal fruit pies and cakes, cookies, scones and homemade breads. During strawberry picking season, pickers are treated to four acres with four different varieties and can recharge with made-to-order shakes and sundaes. Pickers will only find strawberries in the U-Pick fields, but the fresh market offers a selection of homegrown produce, including corn, summer squash, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers. Baskets are supplied for U-Pick and pickers pay by the pound.
In the neighborhood: Nearby Union is home to the Illinois Railway Museum, which houses over 375 pieces of equipment, including electric and steam locomotives and street, passenger and baggage cars. If you catch berry fever in July, coordinate a play date with Thomas and Percy at the Day Out with Thomas event.
10214 Algonquin Rd., Huntley, IL (847-669-3421). Open Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (U-Pick is 9 a.m.-2 p.m. daily) Online: tomsfarmmarket.com
The Extraordinary Berry
Retired NFL referee, Chuck, along with his wife, Coco, will keep your fingers busy this summer and into the fall at their farm in southwest Michigan. The U-Pick season begins with red raspberries and blueberries at the end of June and concludes with apple picking in October. During different times in the season, you’ll also find peaches, plums, tomatoes, cherries, apricots and uncut honey with undertones of sweet berries and tree fruits.
In the neighborhood: Spend a beautiful Chicago summer day meandering eight miles of trails at Sarett Nature Center teeming with observation platforms showcasing views of the river valley below and boardwalks and platforms that put you up-close to wetland wildlife and habitats. In nearby St. Joseph, you’ll find Curious Kids’ Museum and Curious Kids’ Discovery Zone with over 100 hands-on exhibits, which include an apple picking exhibit, role playing adventures, fun with bubbles and more. As of April 2017, new exhibits were opening, including sand and sound themes.
3091 Riverside Rd. Benton Harbor, MI (269-470-4645). Open daily starting June 23, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Online: theextraordinaryberry.com
Knutson's Family Harvest
Knutson’s country store selling made-from-scratch pies, jams, jellies, pickles and relishes is the centerpiece of this vast and serene farm, but the real fun comes with the variety of U-Pick available mid-June through the end of October. Strawberries are the first to make a showing, but you’ll find stretches of summer when black raspberries, apples, blueberries, peaches, blackberries and pears are plentiful.
In the neighborhood: When passing through Joliet, catch a show at the Rialto Square Theatre, well known for their family friendly programming or check the schedule for events at Chicagoland Speedway and Route 66 Raceway, which hosts drag racing events.
13550 Townhouse Rd., Newark, IL (815-557-4630). Open: Tues.-Fri., 9 a.m.-2 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sun., 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Online: knutsonsharvest.com
Susie's Garden Patch
Asparagus launches the six-month U-Pick season and pumpkins and fall squash close it down, with deliciously sweet strawberries, onions, spinach, rhubarb, lettuce, kale, radishes, garlic, peas and green beans available at different times in between. Visit the What’s Pickin’ section of their website to see what’s available before making a visit. Have your own box or bag for picking weighed at the farm stand before you get started because you pay for produce by the pound.
In the neighborhood: Take in the collection of pre-World War II planes and automobiles and early 20th century airplane hangars and automobile garages that have been salvaged and relocated to the Poplar Grove Vintage Wings and Wheels Museum.
10258 US Highway 20, Garden Prairie, IL (815-597-3011). Open Tues.-Sat., 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sun., noon-5 p.m. Online: facebook.com/SusiesGardenPatch
What is YOUR favorite U-Pick? Share it with us in the Comments!
— Maria Chambers