2014 Update: Strawberries are late again this year, so places are just now opening. Just learned that Whitted Bowers (see below) opens May 2, 2014. Vollmer (also see below) open week of April 28. Check first with these other places, which were first researched in 2011, to make sure they have berries. Happy picking!
Several people have asked me where to go for organic or organically grown U-pick strawberries. As many folks know, most strawberry fields in North Carolina are treated with pesticides. (Strawberries on No. 3 on the “dirty dozen” list published by the Environmental Working Group.) For consumers who want pesticide-free berries, there are a decent number of choices at local farmers’ markets. Just ask the farmer or look for farms that advertise “no-spray” berries. But the choices for U-pickers are pretty meager.
I’ve identified only a handful of U-pick farms that do not use chemicals on their berries or use only approved chemicals under Certified Organic regulations. All are in my book, and I’m sharing their entries below. If you know of other U-pick berry farms that are certified organic or use organic growing methods, please let me know and I’ll add them to my list. (2013 Update: I see nothing on website about berries. 2011 Update: Before I got rained out of Southern Village Farmers’ Market today, I met Willie with Eco Farm in Orange County and he said they have no-spray U-pick strawberries on Sundays.
In the Triangle: Vollmer Farm, Hilltop Farms, Whitted Bowers Farm. In the Mountains: Flying Cloud Farm. On the Coast: Indigo Farms.
This just in: add Faucette Farm in the Triad. They’re not in my book because they weren’t organic when I was doing my research.
Listings below are reprinted from “Farm Fresh North Carolina.” Contact information is at the end of each listing.
Vollmer Farm. Few in the state do agritourism at the level Vollmer Farm does. What’s most admirable is that the Vollmers operate a working farm, having made the switch from tobacco to produce, while also attracting thousands of visitors a year to their “Back Forty” entertainment complex. In the spring and summer, certified organic strawberries and blueberries are ripe for the picking, while some farm produce, snacks, and ice cream are for sale in the large gift shop. Starting in mid-September, the action really picks up. Tractor rides take hundreds of visitors and school groups a day to the “back forty” acres, filled with games, playgrounds, mazes, and other agriculturally themed attractions. 677 Highway 98 East, Bunn (Franklin County), 919-496-3076, www.vollmerfarm.com. Open April to October.
Hilltop Farms. When Fred and Virginia Miller moved from Greensboro to her family’s former tobacco farm outside of Raleigh in 1990, Fred became the only current family member to “get my hands in the dirt,” he said. Virginia, meanwhile, opened a horse-boarding business. In 2002 Fred left his longtime office job to take up the life of a full-time farmer. Two years later, his thirty-acre Hilltop Farms became Wake County’s first and possibly still only certified organic farm. Fred sells his vegetables through a CSA, an organic wholesaler, and, on Saturdays, out of a former tobacco shed turned farm stand. Fred also has one of the state’s few organic strawberry fields, offering an acre of U-pick or prepicked strawberries. 6612 Kennebec Road, Willow Springs (Wake County), 919-552-5541, www.hilltopfarms.org. Open Saturday afternoons April to November. Tours by appointment.
Whitted Bowers Farm. The first conversation Cheri Whitted and Rob Bowers had was about how each of them dreamed of growing biodynamic fruit. Now married, the couple moved from California to Orange County, where Cheri’s family has farmed for seven generations, to start the first certified biodynamic farm in the Carolinas. Customers lined up almost as soon the fifty-five-acre Whitted Bowers Farm opened in 2008. “The reaction has been stupendous,” Rob said. “People are thrilled that there’s a biodynamic farm.” Biodynamic farming, a type of organic agriculture, emphasizes soil health and the position of the moon and planets. While Rob acknowledges that “occasionally we get rolling of eyes,” many people are tuned in to the approach. Offerings on their growing roster include blackberries and blueberries, figs, heirloom tomatoes and melons, apples, sweet potatoes, and the state’s only U-pick biodynamic strawberries. “People tell us, ‘I’ve never tasted a strawberry this good.’” 8707 Art Road, Cedar Grove (Orange County), 919-732-5132, www.whittedbowersfarm.com. U-pick strawberries in May. Sales and tours by appointment.
Flying Cloud Farm. While most of the naturally grown produce from Flying Cloud Farm’s eleven acres is sold at farmers’ markets and through a CSA, the farm also operates a small and very tidy self-service roadside stand. Not only does the two-sided cart sport covered containers for the items, the produce is put on ice. Owned by young farmers Annie Louise and Isaiah Perkinson, Flying Cloud also sells a small amount of beef and pork and offers U-pick strawberries in May and June and blueberries in June and July. 1860 Charlotte Highway, Fairview (Buncombe County), 828-628-3348, www.flyingcloudfarm.net. Open June to October.
Indigo Farms. Sixth-generation farmer Sam Bellamy and several family members offer visitors much to see at their combination certified organic farm, retail store, bakery, and nursery. The farm, behind the store, is known for its sweet and juicy U-pick strawberries, but also grows blackberries, blueberries, and vegetables. Livestock raised here includes fowl, sheep, turkeys, and the famed “NASPig” racers, which run on Farm Heritage Day, the first Saturday in October. In October and November, the Bellamys set up hay rides and a hay bale maze. Unlike a corn maze, it’s dark, so you have to feel your way through, with no baling out. 1590 Hickman Road, Calabash (Brunswick County), 910-287-6794, 843-399-6902, www.indigofarmsmarket.com. Open year-round. Tours by appointment.