Strawberry harvest offers opportunities for community-based education and engagement
To Algonquin tribes, for whom present-day New England was once home, June’s full moon was always known as the Full Strawberry Moon. The burst of red berries happens quickly, and the time during which strawberries are harvested is relatively short compared to many other fruits and vegetables. As a result, June’s moon served as a symbol of strawberry season – a reminder to pick berries, and a reminder to enjoy them. And though most of us don’t label our moons these days, we certainly don’t forget to enjoy strawberries!
Easy to enjoy in so many different ways, strawberries offer us not only the opportunity to try out new berry-filled foods, but also the chance to engage in endless place- and community-based learning opportunities. From farms to festivals, picking to pastries, strawberry season ensures a multitude of exciting opportunities to acquire new skills and knowledge – and lots of fun, too!
Of course, the easiest way to learn about strawberries and celebrate the season is to go and pick your own. Western Massachusetts is filled with farms, many of which begin their summer season with PYO berry patches. For young children, picking berries on a farm is like heaven – sitting in a berry patch and slowly filling cartons with berries can lead to a very full belly, and can also spark some impromptu learning about how berries grow and what they do for plants, and how small creatures coexist with the plants (worms, spiders, slugs, etc.). For older children, berry picking provides a chance to learn about farming practices and seasonal foods. Learning about how strawberry plants grow can give children an entirely new appreciation for the seasonal nature of the delicious red berries.
If you don’t already have a favorite source for local berries, there are lots of resources for finding farms and other berry vendors near you. Take a suggestion from our readers, or use the lists and interactive maps offered by CISA and Berkshire Grown to look up where to find berries near your home.
Once you’ve got a plethora of strawberries for your very own, there are lots of ways to continue to learn right in your kitchen. Teach kids how to make jam, bake a pie, or reproduce an old family recipe, and help support their skills in reading comprehension, following directions, basic math, measurement, and of course – self sufficiency. Putting up berries by canning, freezing, or cooking them into a jam, jelly, or sauce is a great way to prolong the season – you’ll be able to enjoy these treats long after strawberry plants have stopped producing (and strawberries atop pancakes with fresh maple syrup is a delicious late-winter treat). On Saturday, June 21st in Amherst, families can join Grow Food Amherst to learn how to cook and preserve strawberries at a free Strawberry Jam Making Workshop from 9am-2pm. BYO or PYO, and take home fresh preserves! Can’t make it to this free workshop, here are some cookbooks that make great resources for using strawberries:
- Mad About Raspberries and Strawberries by Jacqueline Heriteau
- Simply Strawberries by Sara Pitzer
- Strawberries by Pamela Allardice
- Strawberry Connection by Beatrice Ross
Finally, no strawberry season is complete without a few community celebrations. On Saturday, June 21st, Red Fire Farm invites families to visit their Montague Farm for a Strawberry Soiree, which will include tastings of at least nine different varieties of strawberries, walking tours of the farm, live music, food, fairy house building, and lots of PYO berries. Following the soiree is the Strawberry Feast in the Field Dinner, a delicious home-cooked meal served in the strawberry fields – with tickets at $35 each, the event might make a fantastic Parents’ Night Out.
For more celebratory strawberry consumption in the Pioneer Valley, don’t miss River Valley Market’s 5th Annual Strawberry Ice Cream Social. Held on Thursday, June 26th from 5-8pm in Northampton, the event will feature local berries and Bart’s local ice cream, as well as a la carte grilled dinner items, live music, and lots of fun!
Photo credit: (cc) David Blackwell & (c) Sienna Wildfield