A fruit picking vacation with the kids? Why not!

Taking a fruit picking vacation with your kids

A fruit picking vacation may be among the most adventurous and creative family getaways. I know because I’m looking at a cluster of ripening bananas on my kitchen counter that we harvested. Our visit to Hilo, Hawaii, just turned into what my eldest son calls a fruit safari.

It’s way too many bananas for a family of four, and I’m not entirely sure what to do with them.

How many people go fruit-picking on their vacation? That’s a difficult question to answer. But I can say this for certain: If you think about it — I mean really think about it — it’s a lot more than you would assume. From U-pick apple orchards to roadside strawberry patches, the opportunity for fruit picking vacations is abundant, no matter where you are.

Lately, my kids have acquired a taste for it. And of all the habits you can pick up on vacation, I would say fruit picking is one of the healthier ones. It’s easier than ever to find fruit, but harvesting it can sometimes be tricky, and the legalities can be, um, questionable. But it’s a worthwhile adventure.

A fruit picking vacation with your family can be fun!
Aren Elliott harvests grapes in Buellton, Calif.

Where to find fruit picking vacation opportunities

When my 16-year-old son Aren became fascinated by fruit picking, I should have asked him how he defined the term “fruit safari.” Turns out he’s not talking about visiting a citrus grove and paying a few bucks to pick his own produce. Oh no, he’s canvassing neighborhoods when the fruits ripen and picking them off the trees.

Oh, yes. There’s a website for that. It’s called Falling Fruit. Contributors geotag all of the trees and bushes in a given neighborhood where you can find ripening fruit. If it’s over the fence line and on public property, it’s yours to harvest — at least theoretically.

I set off on a fruit-picking adventure with Aren while we visited Buellton, Calif., recently. The grapes were turning a deep blue, weighing down the vines. He came prepared with a Trader Joe’s canvas bag and a pair of scissors.

“Are you sure those grapes are over the property line?” I asked him.

“Just keep a lookout,” he replied. “I’ll get this.”

I’m pretty sure the grapes were on public property. Aren worked quickly, slicing large clusters of floral-scented Merlot and dropping them into the bag.

“Don’t they have seeds?” I asked him.

“Dad,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Grape seeds are a good source of antioxidants.”

Seriously? Who knew?

Taking your kids on a fruit picking vacation
Iden and Erysse at Pappy’s Patch in Oviedo, Fla., in 2013.

This was bound to happen

I should have seen this coming. I’ve always spoken to the kids about how fruit is superior to the processed garbage that passes for candy these days. (If you want chocolate, we’ll visit Europe later, I promised.)

Our local blueberry patch in Oviedo, Fla., was a place called Pappy’s Patch. The blueberries were OK, and the children had a lot of fun running along the rows and trying to find the biggest berries. Little did I know that they’d take a liking to fruit picking that stayed with them for years to come.

It seems like everywhere we go, the local tourism authorities equate fruit picking with “family friendly” activities. And while that’s true, I think it sells the attraction short. Teenagers and adults might also appreciate the virtues of a freshly harvested apple in Washington or a strawberry in California. Age has nothing to do with it.

I had the best strawberries of my life at Kenny’s Strawberry Farm in Fallbrook, Calif. If you’re ever in the area during season, you have to stop by and pick a box. You can thank me later.

There’s something to be said for teaching the kids about the importance of natural that foods aren’t processed, irradiated or sprayed with pesticide. Perhaps this fruit picking vacation thing will lead to a lifetime of healthy habits. One can hope.

Erysse Elliott on a fruit picking vacation
Erysse Elliott at Kenny’s Strawberry Farm in Fallbrook, Calif., in 2017.

How to have a fruit picking vacation with your family

Fruit picking is the kind of thing you add to your vacation itinerary. While it may not be the focus of your trip (unless we’re related), it’s a great diversion when you’re done with the theme park or the beach.

If your kids don’t like the idea of trudging around in the mud, tell them they’re about to have the best fruit ever. Or ask them if they know where raspberries come from. Do they grow on trees or bushes? And if you’re feeling really brave, go to the Falling Fruit site and take a walk in a nearby neighborhood, looking for fruit. I guarantee that will be an adventure.

When we lived in Hilo, we found all kinds of tropical fruit — papayas, passionfruit, coconut, starfruit and, of course, bananas. No one gave us a second look when we plucked guavas off the trees by the road. My favorite? The avocados. Our Hawaii friends said residents never pay for avocados. And why would you if they grow along the road?

There’s one more thing. Harvested fruit has a short shelf life. All of which takes me back to the bananas, which are turning brown. I know we’ll eat some of them, but it’ll be a race against time. Maybe I’ll have to find a banana bread recipe.

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