When my husband and I arrived in North Idaho eight years ago, we had no idea how much food grows in this verdant corner of the United States. Although we now have a thriving bucket garden in our driveway, we find that there are considerable limitations to what we can produce ourselves. So occasionally we will go and pick the fruit of someone else’s labor.

U-pick farms are prolific throughout the Inland Northwest and afford plenty of produce-picking opportunities throughout the spring, summer, and fall. From berries and herbs to pumpkins and apples, pickers pay notably lower prices than they would at grocery stores while supporting their local growers and embarking on unique outdoor adventures suitable for the whole family. And the flavor of freshly picked produce is a wonder you will want to experience over and over again.

Agriculture has always been an important element of the Inland Northwest’s economy – think of the abundance of grains, fruits, vegetables, and more that is produced in the Palouse. According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, most of the farms in North Idaho, Spokane County, and north of Spokane are small – 10-50 acres. While local food movements and urban agriculture have increased the demand and appreciation for small farms, it is still a constant struggle to make a venture of this size profitable.

Photo: Shallan Knowles.

Photo: Shallan Knowles.

Two of the chief agricultural expenses that we pay the price for at the supermarket are labor and transportation. When you go to a farm and participate in the daily or seasonal harvest routines, you save the farmer time and money and create space in your own budget for other things. You also rub shoulders with the growers, pay them directly, and go home confident that you are putting healthy food on the table.

Green Bluff Growers, an association of more than 30 small family farms and food stands on the outskirts of North Spokane, is probably the most well-known pick-your-own-produce area in the Inland Northwest. Green Bluff also presents fruit festivals, live music, breweries, hayrides, corn mazes, and farm-made foods throughout the year. But it’s not the only place to pick around here.

You can pick berries at The Hughes Farm in Post Falls, where they also raise beef to sell. In Coeur d’Alene, you can take the family to harvest tomatoes and peppers at Promised Land Family Farm in August, or pumpkins at Prairie Home Farm in the fall. Ask the vendors at your farmer’s market if they have u-pick days. Additionally, Rathdrum, Sandpoint, Bonner’s Ferry, and St. Maries all have little patches of foodie heaven where you can experience farming traditions and share in the harvest. (Download the Idaho U-Pick Directory at treasurevalleyfoodcoalition.org.)

Whether you choose to forage in the wild, take advantage of friends’ gardens and fruit trees, or take a trip to a local farm, you will not regret getting out even one weekend this summer to savor the bounty flourishing right where we live. //

S. Michal Bennett is a freelance writer, poet, and blogger based in Coeur d’Alene. She wrote about motor boat rentals in July. Read more of Michal’s writing at www.shortandtasty.blogspot.com.