Fresh berries are inherently cheerful. Apples are virtuous, bananas are convenient, oranges are nice when you’re warding off a cold—but berries are the Cyndi Lauper of fruits. They just want to have fun! Whether you bake them in a pie, churn them into ice cream, or pile them in a bowl with a dusting of sugar, berries of all kinds are always a mood-booster—especially if they’re a locally grown variety. Grocery store berries, bred for size and sturdiness, simply can’t compete with the rich, sweet flavor of a freshly picked strawberry or blackberry.
I pondered this on a recent Saturday morning, when I spent two blissful hours picking strawberries at Sweet Berry Farm, in Marble Falls, an hour northwest of Austin. As pandemic-safe outings go, this one was ideal: the strawberry fields sprawl over eight acres, so there was plenty of room to spread out. As we walked down the rows, slowly filling cardboard crates, it was fun to talk strategy. The biggest and ripest berries were often hidden near the center of the plant, under the leaves and white flowers. We quickly learned to pick them by tugging gently on the stem rather than the fruit itself; these berries are so delicate that even the slightest jostling can leave a bruise. By the time our eight-pound berry boxes were full, our hands were sticky and stained red, our legs were pleasantly sore from kneeling in the dirt, and we had the beginnings of sunburn on our faces—as well as idiotic grins.
Berries freeze well, but I have a bad habit of freezing things and then forgetting them, so I opted to use most of our haul that weekend. Fourteen pounds of strawberries was plenty for a fresh berry tart—easier to make than it looks, especially if you pile the sliced fruit in an overlapping pattern on top—plus two tubs of strawberry ice cream and seven small jars of jam, which make great gifts. (If you have an Instant Pot, try using the canning function; it was a breeze, even for a first-timer like me.) Strawberry season is at its peak now and continues through early May. Then blueberry and blackberry season takes over, which lasts into July. Availability varies widely, especially since the February freeze delayed many crops, so check social media or call ahead to make sure the farm you choose has a good crop ready. Below, we’ve rounded up eight berry farms across the state. And if you’re looking for kitchen inspiration, we’ve got you covered there too: try Texas Monthly’s recipes for strawberry shortcake, strawberry-rhubarb pie, blackberry cobbler, summer fruit scones, or a decadent summertime smash cocktail with bourbon and berries.
10268 FM 314, Edom
Jars of raw blueberry honey are for sale at Blueberry Hill Farms, an hour and a half southwest of Dallas. The blueberry-and-cream pie, topped with a pecan-cookie crumble, is another customer favorite. Chuck Arena, who’s owned the farm for 22 years with his wife, Sherri, says that though the February freeze put a damper on this year’s crop, he’s still planning to open for the season on Memorial Day weekend. Check the website or call before you go to make sure berries are ready to pick. On Mother’s Day, moms get a free blueberry ice cream cone.
23810 Bauer Hockley Rd., Hockley
At this farm about 45 minutes northwest of Houston, you’re given a plastic bucket and a rope for tying it around your waist. You’ll have both hands free to pick more berries than you’ll know what to do with. (For a more conservative option, smaller prepaid containers are also on offer.) Ten varieties of blueberries are grown here. To make sure you take home only fully grown fruit, the owners suggest you “lightly tickle” the plants, encouraging the ripest berries to fall right into your bucket.
575 Rutledge Rd., Poteet
Hallie Bates was nine years old when she started growing strawberries at her home in Poteet, the Strawberry Capital of Texas. Now she and four of her cousins, with help from their families, all grow berries to save money for college. Their hard work has paid off: the kids took home the title of Grand Champion Strawberry Growers at the 2018 Poteet Strawberry Festival.
21110 Bauer Hockley Rd., Tomball
Broaden your palate by picking jujubes, or Chinese dates, a heat- and drought-resistant fruit that thrives in scorching Texas summers. Fuyu persimmons, with their cheerful orange color and squat shape, are another lesser-known fruit you can pick here (though they won’t be ready until the fall). Open on Saturdays only, Harvest Season also offers plenty of blueberries, blackberries, loquats, peaches, and mandarins. The farm hasn’t opened for the season just yet, but owner Emily Loftus expects to be ready for guests by mid- to late May—check Facebook for updates.
200 W. Tank Hollow Rd., Poteet
Vance and Ruth Ann Schultze, Poteet’s 2019 Strawberry Growers of the Year, offer a wide range of pick-your-own produce. Strawberries are available now, and in May KH Farm’s blackberries will be ripe. Later in the year, visitors can take home tangerines, onions, navel oranges, and peas. The Schultzes also take their canning operation seriously, selling a range of creative jam flavors that includes strawberry-amaretto and strawberry-jalapeño.
21104 Binford Rd., Waller
Located in the Houston suburb of Waller, just down the road from Waller High School, Neal’s Berry Farm is one of only a few places in the state where you can pick both blackberries—a thornless variety, so you won’t need gloves—and figs. Peaches, nectarines, and plums will also be in season later this spring. The farm is currently closed but set to open in late April or early May; check Facebook for updates.
1801 FM 1980, Marble Falls
This fifty-acre farm is especially good for families with small children, as there’s a kiddie train, an inflatable “berry bounce,” and a petting zoo. After you work up an appetite berry-picking, try a homemade strawberry popsicle or a cup of strawberry lemonade. In the fall, the farm has a pumpkin patch, a Texas-shaped maize maze, and pick-your-own flowers with zinnias in a rainbow of hues.
14400 E. Texas Hwy 29, Georgetown
On weekends, Sweet Eats hosts pig races three times a day—need we say more? In addition to picking strawberries, visitors can purchase homemade jam, candles, soap, and other gifts. Kids can try out an apple slingshot, pony rides, corn hole, tug-of-war, and more. Tickets are on sale now for the Sunflower Festival (June 19 to July 18), where you can Instagram your heart out in a field of twelve-foot-tall blooms.