Want to get in touch with where your food comes from? Itching to get your hands dirty, but not quite ready to quit your day job and buy a farm? Why not become a farmer for a day?
You don’t need to head for the heartland to get your green thumb going. Several farms in the Bay Area welcome visitors for workdays, U-Pick, or hands-on farm tours. Whether you spend the afternoon harvesting organic strawberries, planting a new row of veggies, or (everyone’s favorite) weeding, farming for a day is a great way to get outside, connect to your community, learn more about food—and score some incredibly fresh produce while you’re at it. So grab a pair of closed-toed shoes, a hat, sunscreen, and a water bottle, and head off for one of these agrarian adventures.
If strawberries are your jam, Swanton Berry Farm’s organic grounds should be your first pick.
SWANTON BERRY FARM
It’s strawberry season! If you’ve never tasted a perfectly ripe strawberry straight off the bush, it’s time to head down the central coast to Swanton Berry Farm.
Swanton boasts a lot of firsts. Certified in 1987, it became the first organic strawberry farm in California. Then in 1998, it became the first organic farm to sign a contract with the United Farm Workers. Environmentally conscious, righteous, and well-versed in running their famed U-Pick, the folks at Swanton welcome people of all ages to the farm to pick their own strawberries and witness an organic farm in action.
They’re open daily from 8 AM to 7 PM throughout strawberry season (though they recommend U-picking at their Highway 1 location on weekends [the only times that location is open], and at their Davenport location throughout the week)—and you can come back in the winter for U-pick kiwis. The wind can get chilly this close to the ocean, so bring a sweatshirt. And if you’d like to linger a little longer and enjoy the views, the farm encourages you to bring a picnic and make a day of it.
Try Veggielution for your next Saturday brunch—after helping on the farm, sit down with volunteers for a potluck.
Every Saturday at 10 AM, Veggielution hosts a drop-in workday at their six-acre organic farm in the heart of San Jose. Volunteers farm for two and a half hours, then break at 12:30 for a potluck lunch—which is typically a multi-ethnic feast in this city of immigrants. And it’s not just the people who are diverse. As you walk up and down the rows at this farm, you’ll see everything from bok choy to fava beans to Gai Lan (Chinese broccoli).
You can feel good about pitching in at this diversified organic community farm, which brings fresh produce to local families who most need it. In 2013, Veggielution grew 56,000 pounds of vegetables, with almost two-thirds distributed for free or below market rate. Not available on Saturday? The farm also hosts workdays on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings.
Don’t get your feathers ruffled if you end up working alongside some clucky creatures at Pie Ranch. PIE RANCH
When Jered and Nancy Lawson launched their nonprofit educational farm in 2002 in Pescadero, they couldn’t help but notice that the fourteen acres of coastal farmland they’d purchased were shaped like a slice of pie. So they decided to embrace the moniker, which fit with their mission to make sure “everyone gets a slice of the pie.” And this is not just metaphorical pie. The diverse farm and livestock operation at Pie Ranch supplies the ingredients for the mouth-watering slices of strawberry-rhubarb and lemon-buttermilk pie served at the farm stand every day but Tuesday. But the best day to show up is the third Saturday of the month, when Pie Ranch hosts their popular workday and barn dance.
Come at 2 PM for the workday, hang out for the 4 PM farm tour ($12-20 per person), and definitely stay for the 6 PM potluck and barn dance ($10-$20 per person). Bring garden tools and gloves if you have them, and a dish to share—but keep the booze at home, since the potluck and dance are alcohol-free.
Join dedicated volunteers for a good cause at FARM Davis, like these fifth-graders that grow produce for low-income seniors in the community.
A series of three micro-farms that operate on the “gift economy,” FARM Davis grows 1,200 pounds of food each year, which they donate to a local soup kitchen and homeless shelter. The nonprofit organization does everything on donation: the land is donated (two of the micro-farms are converted front yards!), the tools are donated, the seed is donated, and all the work is done by volunteers. Anyone is welcome at FARM Davis workdays, which tackle tasks from trellising to seeding to fertilizing fruit trees with the help of FARM’s composting chicken coop. Regulars are happy to offer tips and tricks to beginners, so this isn’t a bad place to start if you’re thinking of putting in a garden at home. Workdays are scheduled regularly, but not on a set schedule, so check the website ahead of time.
About the author: Liz Carlisle is the author of Lentil Underground, which tells the story of a group of renegade farmers who made their farms more sustainable by sharing knowledge, resources, and inspiration. She holds a Ph.D. in Geography from UC Berkeley, where she is a fellow at the Center for Diversified Farming Systems.