This past Sat., June 11th, a small group of six hounds/SOs gathered on the fertile farm grounds of Swanton in Davenport. More info on Swanton and their farm stand here: http://www.swantonberryfarm.com/pages...
We had been planning this for a while and decided to fill our time w/ a farm tour, picking (of course!), and ending w/ a potluck picnic lunch. It took a little time to finally talk to someone at Swanton and set up a group tour, but once I got connected w/ a woman named Sandy, I knew we'd be taken care of. She was very accommodating of our date and time preferences and promptly returned my follow-up calls.
Their general number (831)469-8804 typically doesn't get answered since a farm isn't your usual 9-5 office. Call well in advance (a month before, if possible), leave a message, and expect that it may take a week to hear back from someone. Keep trying...you can also try their email address or even stop by their farm stand on the weekends.
Cost for the tour ended up being a $20 flat group fee w/ a discount on the berries. Current u-pick rates are $1.50/lb. and we were charged only $1/lb. since we did the tour. Great deal. I got the feeling that tour fees and discounts are determined on a case-by-case basis (since they don't have a standard business mentality), so be aware that these rates may vary.
Our tour guide, Jackie, got there a few min. early and spent a total of about 45 min. w/ us. She would have spent more time w/ us if we had more questions. The farm stand and its property are actually quite small, so the tour really just encompasses the immediate area...nothing you couldn't see on your own. They own other fields north and south of that area, but we didn't venture there. Not much walking, just around the building, so it's very low impact. The fields are right there.
For me, the tour wasn't really about seeing anything exciting, more about talking directly w/ a Swanton staff person, being able to ask questions, learn more about their practices, etc. So it's nothing fancy, no commercial or rehearsed quality, just hearing tidbits and stories and getting an insider's perspective. Jackie was well-informed, genuinely personable, and clearly believed in Swanton's mission. She spoke about their laborers and made me really appreciate the role that they play in providing all of us w/ strawberry happiness year after year. I'm sure a tour w/ the owner, Jim, would be interesting.
It was then great to pick my own berries for the first time. Examining them for blemishes and ripeness, touching them, plucking them from the vine was such a visceral way to connect w/ the soil and fruit. This may sound really cheesy, but I could feel Alice Waters' sermons rippling through me.
Ending the day w/ a potluck picnic was the whipped cream on the shortcake. We spread our wares and foodstuffs on a picnic table overlooking the fields. Banh mi from Huong Lan (Newark), homemade sushi rolls, homemade Zuni chicken and bread salad, baked goods from Arizmendi (Berkeley), sweets from Swanton. Life was good. The conversation flowed along w/ the food and drink. It was wonderful sharing this experience w/ hounds!
If one can't make it to the farm stand, go to their website to view local markets where their berries can be purchased. They are the best they've tasted all season, and while they're not the sweetest berries out there, I prefer their complexity and uniqueness...no two look or taste alike. As far as prepared desserts at the stand, my favorite is their strawberry gelato. View a few photos here...