Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Girls Strawberry U-Pick


Visiting The Girls Strawberry U-Pick in Delray Beach was one of my most fun and surprising research projects so far. A friend had visited and told me about this place, which is located in a very nondescript and heavily trafficked area of Delray Beach. Really, there's nothing around except low-end strip malls and over 50 condo communities. My grandparents live a few blocks away and had never mentioned that steps from their duplex one could find a lush, organic strawberry farm.

I got lost and had to make a few U-turns before I finally saw a small storefront with a plain sign reading "The Girls." Surely that couldn't be a strawberry farm, could it? Still, I parked my car and went into the shop. A reviewer on "Yelp" describes the country store as being like a Cracker Barrel and honestly, I couldn't have said it better myself.

The "country store" attempts to be charming and quaint. You can tell they're trying to appeal to children with rainbow sheaths of fruity candy canes and probably a hundred varieties of disappointing jams and jellies and other confections. The preserves appear to be made in house, with their "Girls" labels, however I don't think they are. Reading the ingredient labels I discovered that most, if not all, of their jams, jellies, relishes etc. contained high fructose corn syrup. This suggests to me that the products are factory produced and then slapped with a custom label. While this is a fairly common practice with a lot of businesses, I look down upon it and find it very deceptive because it could cause people to think they're buying local and that they're buying foods made with integrity. In reality they're overpaying for the same corn syrup laden junk they could get at Winn Dixie.

When you go to the Girls U-Pick Strawberry, skip the country store with it's neon, filler packed ice cream and tourist trap key lime cookie mixes and head straight for the back door. Once you step outside you will be amazed. I couldn't believe it. I felt like I was in a true paradise. The Girls have miraculously transformed the back of an urban strip mall into an organic farm, garden and petting zoo. Even if you don't feel like picking your own strawberries from their hydroponic, foam cones, you will still enjoy strolling the grounds where you will see a wide variety of tropical fruit trees like jaboticaba and lychee, carambola and papaya shading hand painted wooden tables and crates full of locally grown produce. You'll find fruits and vegetables and enormous tomatoes which you can purchase without picking. If you get tired you can sit in an Adirondack chair in a banana grove and watch white swans gliding past their own waterfall. Don't miss the miniature donkeys, the giant tortoise or the goats and be sure to notice the bright, cheerful murals painted on every surface. There's even a vintage car decorated with painted strawberry vines.

I couldn't visit a U-Pick Strawberry farm and not pick strawberries and The Girls makes picking your own fruit easy. Since the strawberry plants are raised off the ground on vertical racks, you don't have to bend over or get in the dirt to get to the berries. They also give you a pail and plastic scissors (like the kind you used in elementary school) to snip the stems. I liked this because then you can cut the stems as long as you want. I left a few long stems attached because these are great for making chocolate dipped strawberries.

Another thing that I really liked was how the berries and other crops (such as lettuce and chard) are grown. With hydroponics you don't need a big field. It's more efficient and ideal for crowded, urban areas which can be transformed from ugly concrete jungles to real oases of healthy, edible plant life. I think it's a creative and unique way to grow local produce in alternative settings and climates and it made me really happy to see what the Girls had done. On their website they say that their growing method also conserves a lot of water.

I filled up my pail and took it inside to be weighed. I ended up picking seven dollars worth of berries and had a lot. I was very happy with the quality of the fruit and ended up eating them all plain. I had great plans for jam, shortcake and cheesecake, but ultimately I think I just like my strawberries on their own.
Strawberry season is nearly over, so make sure you visit The Girls soon. Skip the store and head straight outside to the gardens and you won't regret your visit.

The Girls U-Pick Strawberry
14466 S. Military Trail
Delray Beach

1 comment:

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