U-pick-em: Bonita Springs, Ave Maria add to u-pick options in region

Scott McIntyre/Staff
Farmer Mike's U-Pick farm on Friday, Dec. 28, 2012. The family owned and operated farm reopened after being closed for two years because of damage done by freezing temperatures.

Photo by SCOTT MCINTYRE // Buy this photo

Scott McIntyre/Staff Farmer Mike's U-Pick farm on Friday, Dec. 28, 2012. The family owned and operated farm reopened after being closed for two years because of damage done by freezing temperatures.

If you go

31 Produce & Mining Company

Where: 18500 State Road 31, Alva, east off Bayshore Road in North Fort Myers

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily

Information: 239-313-8213; www.31produce.com/

The Farm (formerly known as First Fruit Produce)

Where: 19690 Cypress View Drive, in Estero off Estero Parkway

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday

Information: www.thefarm-estero.com/

Farmer Mike’s U-Pick

Where: 26049 Morton Ave., in Bonita Springs off East Terry Street

Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday

Information:239-498-4576; www.farmermikesupick.com

Collier Family Farms

Where: 5321 Ave Maria Blvd., in Ave Maria off Oil Well Road

Hours: Date and times not yet announced; farm to open in early 2013

Information: 239-398-4157; www.collierfamilyfarms.com

— Mason Adams knew what he was looking for when he headed into the fields to pick bright, red strawberries with his grandfather at Farmer Mike's U-Pick in Bonita Springs.

"Oh yeah, this one," the 7-year-old said, before gently twisting and pulling a strawberry from its stem.

Farmer Mike's U-Pick reopened Nov. 12 in time for tourist season after being closed for two years because of damage done by freezing temperatures.

Prior to the reopening, Southwest Florida residents and visitors had slim pickings — either a u-pick off Estero Parkway in Estero or one in North Fort Myers.

Now, the 17-acre Farmer Mike's U-Pick is open again on Morton Avenue in Bonita Springs and another u-pick for the region is on its way in about a month, when Collier Family Farms is scheduled to open in the Ave Maria area of eastern Collier County.

* * * * *

The family-owned Farmer Mike's is in its 18th year of business, coming through bankruptcy following the freezes.

"It was very difficult," said Jennifer Clevenger, the general manager and the farmer's daughter. "It has taken us two years to finally be able to financially be able to reopen."

Added owner and farmer Mike Clevenger: "I just hope Mother Nature lets us succeed."

Farm officials already are seeing familiar faces show up at the 26049 Morton Ave. farm off East Terry Street.

"I'm glad it's back open," said Mason's grandfather, David Scribner, 61, who enjoys eating fresh strawberries in a bowl after dinner.

The Naples resident, who has been picking fruit and produce at Farmer Mike's U-Pick for 12 years, said his family missed having the farm open the past couple of years.

On a recent morning, the tandem enjoyed selecting and buying 2 and 1/2 pounds of ready-to-eat strawberries for $6.23.

Scribner said he likes knowing that the produce is grown locally and not imported from another country, plus he favors supporting local businesses.

At the farm, visitors can pick their own tomatoes, lettuce and strawberries.

Farmer Mike's harvests its produce and sells strawberries, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumber, squash, radish, beets, onions, assorted herbs, lettuce, brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers and assorted hot peppers. The farm also grows snapdragon flowers.

Locally grown citrus from Stoney's Citrus Farms is also sold at Farmer Mike's U-Pick.

Currently, the farm has 4 acres of ready-to-eat strawberries in raised beds and another 4 acres of tomatoes. Mike Clevenger said all of the crops, except for strawberries, are planted every week for 20 weeks.

The farm is also growing a variety of lettuce heads and strawberries using a hydroponic system. The lettuce heads are set up on six tables. Additional strawberries are growing on a vertical gardening system, which increases fruit and vegetable yield while conserving space and water.

By mid-January, Farmer Mike's also plans to have remote sites set up at seven farmers market in Southwest Florida, with hopes to add more throughout the year.

"The goal is to have at least two off-site markets a day as well as the U-pick," Jennifer Clevenger said.

The farm closes at the end of the farming season, around the second week of May.

Picking their own produce has become a family tradition for the Klein family of North Naples. Now, they will not have to drive too far to do that.

They spent a recent afternoon picking strawberries at the Bonita Springs farm.

"We are so excited — over the moon," said Lindsey Klein, 33.

Raised in Vermont and reminiscing about picking produce as a child, Klein said she is thrilled about being able to bring her five children to a farm to pick their own fruits and vegetables. The Kleins plan to visit the farm every couple of weeks."In my opinion, these are a lot better than the grocery ones," said McKayla Klein, 10, while holding a cardboard box full of strawberries.

* * * * *

Collier Family Farms in eastern Collier County is about to become the newest u-pick farm in the region.

Now in the process of acquiring its U.S. Department of Agriculture organic certification, the farm is slated to open in late-January.

Collier Family Farms spans 12 acres in the community of Ave Maria.

Lara Collier, great-granddaughter of Barron Collier Sr. and assistant manager of farm operations, said there's an increasing trend of people purchasing organic food and local produce because people want to know their farmer and where their food is grown.

The farm hopes to be fully organic in the summer 2013, Collier said.

With a focus on locally grown, pesticide-free, non-genetically modified produce and citrus, Collier Family Farms will offer a variety of fruits and vegetables for sale.

"It's better for the environment and the consumers," Collier said about being an organic farm.

This season, Collier Family Farms expects to sell peppers, leafy greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, squash, onions, strawberries and locally grown citrus.

Similar to Farmer Mike's, Collier Family Farms is incorporating alternative growing methods including hydro-stackers. Strawberry and leafy green plants could be the first plants to grow in the hydro-stackers, according to a prepared statement.

The farm will offer a public u-pick, a farm stand and farm tours.

In summer 2013, the farm plans to begin offering produce at local farmers markets.

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