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map of Sudbury, England
map of Sudbury, England ()
map of Sudbury, England
map of Sudbury, England ()
Red currants grow in bunches on a small bush. Although most popular in red and black varieties, currants come in white and pink, too. People pick their own berries for making jams and jellies.
Red currants grow in bunches on a small bush. Although most popular in red and black varieties, currants come in white and pink, too. People pick their own berries for making jams and jellies. (David Hodge/Stars and Stripes)
Row after row of fresh strawberries grow on table-top devices at a pick-your-own farm near Sudbury, England, about 30 minutes from RAFs Mildenhall  Lakenheath. The devices keep the strawberries about waist high for easy picking.
Row after row of fresh strawberries grow on table-top devices at a pick-your-own farm near Sudbury, England, about 30 minutes from RAFs Mildenhall Lakenheath. The devices keep the strawberries about waist high for easy picking. (David Hodge/Stars and Stripes)
A lone ladybug navigates its way through a  blackberry vine at a pick-your-own farm near RAFs Lakenheath and Mildenhall.
A lone ladybug navigates its way through a blackberry vine at a pick-your-own farm near RAFs Lakenheath and Mildenhall. (David Hodge/Stars and Stripes)
Picking your own fruit and vegetables can be a fun family affair and a great escape to the English countryside.
Picking your own fruit and vegetables can be a fun family affair and a great escape to the English countryside. (David Hodge/Stars and Stripes)

Few things are more satisfying than picking your own food straight from its source, except, perhaps, growing the food yourself. But not everyone has a green thumb or enough space for a garden.

Luckily, during the summer and fall many farms near RAFs Mildenhall and Lakenheath, England, offer acres of pick-your-own produce with a large variety of super-fresh fruits and vegetables. Along with the freshness comes peace of mind in knowing the food’s origins.

After a brief online search and a couple of phone calls, I decided to travel toward the town of Sudbury, about an hour’s drive due south of Mildenhall. There, I found two pick-your-own farms located near each other.

Andrew Wheldon, owner of one of the farms, has been in the pick-your-own fruit business since the 1970s and believes the difference between picking the fruit yourself or buying it off store shelves is that people can see where the fruit is grown.

“People like to know where their food comes from,” Wheldon said.

The availability of fruits and vegetables generally follows the seasons, but as I found out, there can be differences in the selection even when the farms are near to each other. Part of the reason is different cultivars — plant species. But weather can play a role, too. The first farm I visited had strawberries and plums, while the second, less than 10 miles away, had raspberries, blackberries, plums and loganberries.

Paul Spencer, owner of the second farm I visited, has also been offering pick-your-own fruit since the early ’70s. He said he has started to grow his strawberries using a table-top apparatus that leaves strawberries dangling above the dirt at about waist height for easy picking.

He believes people enjoy the experience because it gives them an opportunity to visit the countryside.

It’s easy to feel a sense of tranquility while walking down the long rows of plants   and closely scrutinizing each fruit for its ripeness and condition before gently plucking it and placing it in a basket.

Several varieties of fruit are reaching the end of their season, but raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, plums, figs and apples can still be found. As the fruits slowly fade out of season — definitively ending with the first frost of winter — many vegetables will begin sprouting and should remain well into winter.

Tips for pickers • It’s best to call the farm before traveling to ensure produce is available.

• Wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty. Also wear old shoes or rain boots.

• Selecting the perfect fruit can be tedious, so be prepared to spend an hour or two navigating the fields to fill your basket.

• If you are unsure about the appearance of a particular fruit when it is at its ripest, ask one of the employees at the farm for advice.

• Bees are commonly found on the farm. Although they tend to mind their own business, people who are allergic to their stings might want to bring an epinephrine device.

• Although most fruit plants are easy and fun for children to pick from, the vines of blackberries have thorns and are best left to the hands of adults. Or a better option may be to buy the pre-picked package offered on the farm.

On the QTDirectionsPick-your-own farms are easy to find by an Internet search or roadway signs leading drivers to a nearby farm.

TimesVary depending on the location, but normal business hours are usually kept during the season.

CostsVary by weight and type of fruit, and prices are competitive to those found in local supermarkets.

FoodOften there are small cafes on the farms serving everything from nibbles to meals.

InformationThere are several great resources on the Internet for all things pick-your-own. Two of those websites are www.pickyourownfarms.org.uk and www.pickyourown.info.

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