Our seasons are subtle in Florida—well, at least winter and spring are, anyway. And every October when I feel a stab of autumn envy at watching my northern friends set off apple picking in orchards aflame with fall colors, I remind myself that our time in Florida for equally scenic (and even tastier) seasonal fruit picking will come.
I’m talking about U-pick strawberry picking season in Florida.
March is prime spring strawberry season around here, and if you haven’t tasted a Plant City strawberry at peak ripeness, you’re missing out. The small city that’s little more than a place to gas up along Interstate-4 between Tampa and Lakeland morphs into the winter strawberry capital of the world every March, when it hosts the Florida Strawberry Festival. I’ve never personally attended the event, but what I do make a point to do every year at this time is head out to one of the great U-pick strawberry farms around Florida to stock up on some sweetness to bring home.
Some of these farms have already been picked out of strawberries for the season (that’s how much Florida loves its strawberries). But read on for some of the best of the bunch U-pick farms and Florida fruits stands selling what grows best down here.
Because after Florida strawberry season comes Florida blueberry season, then tomato season, and on and on…
Countryside Family Farms, Vero Beach
The U-pick strawberry patch at this long-standing Vero Beach citrus grower specializing in Indian River fruits like grapefruits and oranges is one of my must-stops when visiting the Treasure Coast. Countryside Family Farms has a lovely garden setting. There are oversized toy tractors and cars for the kids to ride around on while you grab an authentic Mexican taco from the onsite food truck, El Sid Taqueria, after a busy morning plucking strawberries (pay by the pound) in the onsite patch. My husband always hems and haws over the orchids for sale here, too, and which one to bring home this time. And we don’t leave without grabbing a creamy orange soft serve slushy drink made with local fruit that tastes like pure Dreamsicle nostalgia
Parkesdale Market, Plant City
Here’s another Florida fruit kingdom you’d never find if you didn’t detour off the highway (Interstate-4 in this case). Parkesdale Market in Plant City is all about the strawberries growing in the surrounding fields. And it’s my favorite place to grab a heaping plate of strawberry shortcake loaded with berries, whipped cream and shortcake for less than it would cost for something from Smoothie King with considerably less real fruit in it. I love the old school atmosphere of this place, with covered outdoor seating set within a garden overflowing with tropical flowers . They also sell strawberry milkshakes for less than $3 a pop, bowls of unadulterated berries for purists and, of course, pints and flats of strawberries you can bring home, too. Don’t forget to pose for a photo on the strawberry throne before you leave—a kitsch Florida moment worth capturing.
Hunsader Farms, Bradenton
This Bradenton farm does you-pick strawberry picking and so, so much more. There’s always something growing at Hunsader Farms, with the exception of during the peak summer months of June, July and August. In March, of course, it’s all about strawberries. And after that, you can usually pick things like okra, eggplant, green beans and more. If you’re visiting in May, don’t miss the chance to visit the U-pick tomato vines for some plump vine-ripened Florida tomatoes that come into season far before your northern friends are showing off photos from their gardens.
Ever After Farms, Mims
You can get married with a dreamy barn-like backdrop at Ever After Farms. But you can also pick blueberries at these fields just east of Orlando in Mims–which sounds even more happily-ever-after. Blueberries actually grow wild in Florida, and they’re larger and firmer than varieties you might be used to from other climes. To make it easier than slogging through the state’s woods and swamps to find them where they grow in nature, you can just head to one of the state’s many U-pick blueberry farms in April, when blueberries are in season in Florida. Across the state in Tampa, there are also many U-pick blueberry farms including Keel Farms in Plant City—another strawberry-fields-forever kind of place that segues to blueberry picking in April (and has the advantage of being attached to a brewery and winery, too).