Berry picking is on my annual “To Do List” each spring and summer! I look forward to consistent warm days to ripen the strawberries and blackberries in the fields along the California coastline in Santa Cruz County. I have my favorite “go to” place off Highway 1 north of Davenport. I continually check their website for berry updates on their U-pick fields and once I read, “Strawberry fields are open for picking….” I call my friends and say, “Lets go!”
For the past five years I have made a beeline to Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport. Swanton Berry Farm is a certified organic farm that grows strawberries, blackberries, olallieberries, and loganberries, as well as broccoli, cauliflower, artichokes, peas, celery, squash, rhubarb, and kiwi on 200 acres on 7 properties along Highway 1.
Swanton Berry Farm has a farm stand just north of the quaint seaside town of Davenport. Swanton’s farm stand is a fun and eclectic place to stop for a break after picking your strawberries in the front field. I enjoy sitting down and having a cup of coffee and a piece of pie, play a board game, and just hang out. Swanton’s store sells many yummy homemade desserts such as blackberry and olallieberry cobbler, strawberry shortcake, brownies, a variety of seasonal pies, chocolate truffles, strawberry cheesecake, strawberry rhubarb betty, and chocolate dipped strawberries, as well as a line up of homemade jams that would impress any panty. During the fall and winter, the kitchen prepares homemade soups such as pumpkin curry and cauliflower cream where tourists can warm up on cold days.
I really enjoy hanging out at this farm stand. Music is always playing, there are sofas to relax, and tables set up with vintage games to play. The place is just very cool and fun to explore and look at! The store is self-serve and payment is on the honor system; you leave your money in a box. Where do you find that kind of trust any more?! As I leave my exact change, it makes me feel the world is a little better.
In June, when the days become consistently hot and clear along the coast, the olallieberries ripen. It is a brief picking season of about 2 weeks. Only the watchful and quick to react pickers are rewarded with these coveted berries. For olallieberries, picking is only on weekends due to the high demand and a limited number of plants. In July and August the blackberries finally ripen. They have a long picking season and the farm has many plants to pick from. In December, the kiwi finally ripen for picking for those who love this beautiful furry fruit.
But there is a lot more to this little gem along Highway 1… they have a local history and a philosophy to farming that should be noted.
Co-founders Jim Cochran and Mark Matze, rented four acres of land along Highway 1 and with an old tractor started Swanton Berry Farm in 1983. Those acres were the test ground for a dream…to commercially grow organic strawberries, which at that time, had never been done. For that matter, the commercial strawberry industry believed it couldn’t be done. The practice of using the chemical methyl bromide was the norm for commercially grown strawberries. Methyl bromide is a soil fumigant that is a pesticide and herbicide and has been proven to cause cancer and birth defects. Generations of strawberry farm workers have suffered greatly due to working with this chemical in close proximity…not to mention what effect it has on the fruit.
Jim and Mark were determined to champion farming organically grown strawberries… and they succeeded! Swanton Berry Farm is the first and the oldest organic strawberry farm in California. Thanks Jim and Mark!
In 2002, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded Jim Cochran the Stratospheric Ozone Protection Award for “…pioneer…in developing the technology of farming strawberries…without relying on the soil fumigant methyl bromide, a major contributor to depletion of the ozone layer.”
Swanton Berry Farm also participates in nine Farmers’ Markets in the San Francisco bay area where they sell all their organic vegetables and their seasonal berries. You can find them in Berkeley twice a week, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Noe Valley, Marin twice a week, Aptos, and Menlo Park.
After returning home with my mounding flat of my coveted strawberries I make jam. I make many different types of jam over the course of spring, summer, and fall. But my Strawberry Lemon Verbena Jam is my all time favorite…as well as my son’s. I have included a few of my food photographs for you. Jam is so easy to make and to preserve where you can enjoy it throughout the entire year. I now have twelve jars of the precious red stuff in my pantry. Enjoy the jam… it is devine! Recipe at bottom.
Swanton Berry Farm and Store
25 Swanton Road
Davenport, CA 95017
Open daily 8am to 8pm
Swanton Coastways Ranch
640 Highway 1
Pescadero, CA 94060
U-pick blackberries, oallieberries, and kiwi
STAWBERRY JAM WITH LEMON VERBENA
From Teresa Giovanzana
8 cups of strawberries, cleaned, hulled, and cut
4 ½ cups of white sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
zest of one lemon
30 lemon verbena leaves, fresh
Add all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a low boil. Skim off the foam as jam cooks. As the sugars in the jam begin to get hot enough, the jam will become more translucent. Use a potato masher to mash the fruit. Cook until thickened.
When jam is done cooking, remove pot from stove and remove all the lemon verbena leaves with a tooth pick. Throw leaves away – don’t put down garbage disposal – they will clog sink.
Do not double recipe. Jams will not thicken if you are cooking too much fruit at a time.
1 full flat (approx. 7 pounds) of strawberries will provide two batches of jam