If you love field-fresh strawberries, and let’s be honest, strawberries from the store have got nothing on local-grown berries, I recommend finding a local U-pick strawberry operation.
It’s a fun and delicious family outing, and the kids get a great taste of farm field work, if only for an hour or so.
Our nearest U-pick strawberry operation is Mehlenbacher Farms, located not too far away from Letchworth State Park.
Once a year, we make the trip up to visit Than Mehlenbacher and pick a hefty supply of fresh local strawberries.
Address: Mehlenbacher Farms, 6513 Lamont Road, Castile, NY 14427. Open mid-June to early July (see open days/hours).
Mehlenbacher Farms is a quick drive away from the Castile entrance to Letchworth State Park, so if you’re in the area for an outing at the park or even a stay over for some camping, it’s a great activity to add to your list, or just a quick stop along the way.
A roadside stand out front sells pre-picked strawberries if you want to swing by and pick up a tasty treat.
The stand berries sell for just a bit more than the berries you pick for yourself, which makes sense because you’re not paying for the labor cost of the pickers.
Or, if you’re in it for the experience, venture out into the fields, where you will be given a tray and some baskets and shown where to pick by the very friendly and helpful staff.
What to expect
We do it for the experience, with the added perk of coming home with boatloads of berries.
All the kids look forward to it each year, and although the work can be hot and sweaty most years, they relish the chance to eat warm, field-fresh berries and see how many baskets they can fill.
Be sure to bring sunscreen, hats, and plenty of water to keep everyone hydrated and happy.
The farm has a quaint, hand-painted sign out front, and a dirt driveway leads you back to the farm field-turned-parking area.
There is a port-a-potty available for use at the near end of the field, but no other amenities, as this is a short-season operation.
The U-pick operation is open for picking just a short three weeks of the year, from mid-June to early July.
Watch on the Mehlenbacher Farms Facebook page for opening day to be sure you don’t miss it!
Three and a half acres are devoted to growing berries on rotation. This may not look like much as you drive into the field. Until you get to your row and start picking.
It’s surprising how many berries you can find to fill up those baskets in no time!
This year we brought home four trays of strawberries. That’s 32 quarts!
With all five kids helping (ok, the toddler wasn’t actually that helpful), we were able to pick all those in an hour and a half.
What do we do with that many strawberries?
Old-fashioned things like making strawberry jam and putting them in the freezer to use later for smoothies, strawberry muffins, and other such goodies.
And we have a hungry crew that will devour large amounts of fresh fruit.
History of Mehlenbacher Farms
Mehlenbacher Farms is a family-run operation begun and maintained by Than Mehlenbacher and his family.
An agriculture teacher at the local high school by trade, Mr. Mehlenbacher began the strawberry operation as a way to keep his fingers directly in agricultural production and to raise his family in a “chore culture,” as he calls it.
The operation began in 1997 with a half acre planted to strawberries. Over the years, the size of the strawberry field has increased or, in some years, decreased.
In 2022, 4 1/2 acres of strawberries could be found, whereas 2023 only saw 3 1/2 acres of strawberries.
His children, though grown, still return every early summer to help with the strawberry operation, as do other family members and friends.
Mehlenbacher Farms also provides seasonal work for local high school kids to pick berries for the roadside stand or large batch orders.