By Barbara Kobsar | Photos by Rachel Stanich
I’m up for a trip. Are you?
A mere 35-minute drive from my home in Walnut Creek brings me to trees now laden with fruit and fields full of berries. I’m heading out to pick fruit in the longtime East Bay farming community of Brentwood, where over 900 acres are planted in fruits, vegetables, nuts, flowers, and more. Peaches, tomatoes, melons, corn, and peppers will be ripening here soon, with apples, figs, pears, persimmons, pomegranates, and pumpkins following on their heels, so I’m likely to be back.
Harvest Time in Brentwood
The 50-year history of the trade association called Harvest Time in Brentwood begins in the early 1970s, when a group of East Contra Costa County farmers developed a concept for offering their produce directly to consumers. They also saw it as an opportunity to educate the general public about farming and farm products. By 1986, Harvest Time signs identified each member farm, making it easier for eager customers to find them. The Harvest Time Map is an apt guide to what, where, and when to pick (or pick up) your produce. Download it at harvestforyou.com or check on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Many of the rules that were set up a year ago for the safety of farm workers and customers alike remain in place this season. Some farms require reservations to control the number of pickers in the orchards and fields, so check before you make any plans. Masks and other safety precautions are required at many farms, so come prepared to follow the protocols.
Berry Best Family Farm
Today I know exactly where I am headed. At Berry Best Family Farm on Balfour Road, Rita and Zenon Hipolito and their four children own and manage five acres with u-pick blackberries and strawberries plus boysenberries, stone fruits, beets, kale, asparagus, and carrots offered pre-picked at the farm stand when in season.
Today, baskets of their fresh-picked strawberries line the farm stand counters, but I will enjoy a little of my own picking. No reservations are required, and it’s first come, first served, so I know to arrive early, grab a couple buckets, and choose where I want to start picking. I’m here for the Chandlers, an old-fashioned heirloom variety, but some Albion and Seascape strawberries are sure to end up in my buckets as well. When I am ready to check out, I’ll add a few peaches, plums, apriums, and sweet onions at the farm stand. I may come back in August for more strawberries, which could be available for u-pick as late as October.
If I get home with too many strawberries, I’ll rinse, hull, and drain the extras, then place them in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze. Stored in freezer bags, they will keep in the freezer for up to six months.
Another place I’ll go to pick is Pease Ranch at 25175 Marsh Creek Road, a farm that has been family owned and operated since 1983. These days, Art Pease does most of the supervising while son Steve works their 28 acres of berries and cherries. No reservations are necessary, but a call the night before will confirm the days and hours the farm is open for picking. The fruit may last through June, depending on the weather, and the Pease Ranch u-pick season will end when customers stop coming.
George's Berries at Three Nunns Farm
When I visited Brentwood last fall, I remember turning the corner of Vasco Road and New Marsh Creek Road among fields full of corn stalks. On a May visit, there’s no corn high enough to notice, and anyway, I’m here for George’s u-pick berries. George would be George Nunn, who arrived in Brentwood and took up farming almost 150 years ago. His grandson (also George Nunn) has three grandchildren—Hailey, Jake, and Sam Nunn—who make up the fifth generation now maintaining the family farming tradition at Three Nunns Farm. Their berry farm is a very popular stop for u-pick strawberries and cherries, and plenty of families return later for blueberries, peaches, cucumbers, garlic, watermelons, bell peppers, cantaloupes, peppers, pomegranates, and pumpkins, plus decorative corn stalks and olive branches in the fall.
The Urban Edge Farm
Just up the road on Walnut Boulevard is The Urban Edge Farm. The owners, Bob and Barbara Cecchini, are currently the senior members of a family that started farming in Brentwood in the late 1800s. I always looked forward to bundles of their Cecchini Ranch asparagus showing up at the farmers’ market each spring, but as of 2013, the family began moving their entire operation to an organic regenerative model at the urging of daughter Alli. The farm was not an ideal place for the new imperative, so they sold the original property and purchased a nearby farm, where the Tachella family had mature orchards with many varieties of stone fruit plus figs, persimmons, and pomegranates. The young farmers—Alli Cecchini Erggelet, husband Julian Erggelet, and Angel Ayon—are adding a cherry orchard to fill in the May through October range of u-pick options, and they are even toying with adding u-pick for flowers. With their year-round row crops, they now have plenty of organic produce to sell at their farm store through every season. ♦
Veteran journalist Barbara Kobsar has authored two cookbooks focusing on traditional home-cooked meals using local produce. You’ll find her each Sunday at the Walnut Creek market and on Saturdays at the Orinda and San Ramon markets selling her Cottage Kitchen jams and jellies made from farmers’ market produce.
Fine-art photographer Rachel Stanich is intrigued by the stories of others. She explores cultural texture and landscape in her work. rachelstanich.com
Berry or Cherry Ricotta Toasts
Here’s a delicious summer breakfast or snack that really shines when made with a sturdy bread like Pugliese, sourdough, or pumpernickel.
- 1 pint fresh berries or cherries (any type)
- ¾ cup ricotta cheese (or goat cheese)
- 1 tablespoon honey or 1 tablespoon blackberry or raspberry preserves
- 4 slices buttered toast
- ¼ cup chopped pistachios
- Honey for drizzling
Wash and drain the fruit. If using strawberries, slice them. Cherries should be sliced and pitted. Swirl ricotta with the honey or preserves. Spread on toast and top with berries and pistachios. Drizzle with more honey, if you like.