Jonathan and I were both born in May, so we end up having a joint birthday celebration with our friends in the middle of the month. As a freshly minted, and very enthusiastic jam maker, I wanted to take advantage of the great fruit in Northern California and pick a good amount of strawberries to make jam.

This was a more complicated task than I had anticipated. Our criteria were: 1) No longer than an hour away,  2) Organic – since berries in particular can retain pesticides, 3) A U-pick with plentiful strawberries.

As it turns out, there was no farm that could meet all three criteria. We heard about the farms in Brentwood that were only 45 minutes away and wanted to use them as our berry picking site.

We could only find one organic strawberry farm. The folks at Enos Farm were super nice, but being in one of the hotter parts of the Bay Area, strawberry season was winding down and the u-pick was sparse.

I can say that apricot season is now in full bloom and the picking is plentiful.

We had to modify our criteria and look further where we found Swanton Berry Farm. Right at Highway 1, Swanton Berry Farm is halfway between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz.

While a bit longer (about an hour and fifteen minutes) than we originally planned, that stretch of Highway 1, is one of the most scenic in California. There are beautiful ocean vistas there where you can stop and stretch your legs.

We were ecstatic about the plentiful strawberry picking, but also the fact that the strawberries were on raised beds, which made for easy picking.

As a huge bonus, Swanton Berry Farm has a union contract with their employees. Reading about their history, it sounds like the owners of Swanton Berry Farm actually welcomed having a union contract to ensure their workers’ rights.

There’s nothing like the sweet taste of solidarity! The cost of u-pick is an affordable $2.50/lb.

The cheapest organic strawberries I’ve seen at the farmers market is about $8 for three pints (about a pound).

The closest places for lunch are in either Santa Cruz or Half Moon Bay, so I highly recommend bringing your own lunch. The farmstand does have a wonderful assortment of berry themed desserts (cobblers, pies, muffins) as well as, jams and jellies.

Definitely get one of their berry-infused chocolate truffles. We brought our own lunch in the form of homemade chicken tenders and a quinoa salad.

Here’s the recipe for the chicken tenders:

Homemade chicken tenders

1 1lb package of chicken tenders (or 1 breast cut up into 8 slices)

For the marinade – ¼ lemon juice, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon pepper, ¼ cup of olive oil

2 eggs

1 cup of flour

3 cups of breadcrumbs (or 2 cups of breadcrumbs and 1 cup of finely grated parmesan cheese)

Marinate the chicken for at least half an hour, but up to one day. Get three plates.

Put the flour in one plate, put the beaten eggs in another plate, and the breadcrumbs in the third plate. First dredge the tenders in the flour (shake off the excess) and then the egg, and finally the breadcrumbs.

Pan fry the tenders in a large skillet that has vegetable oil in it up to about ½ an inch. Fry them on both sides until golden brown. Because they are breaded, you can freeze them easily.

About The Author

Susan Mernit is editor & publisher of Oakland Local ( a news & community hub for Oakland, CA. A former VP at AOL & Netscape, & former! Yahoo Senior Director, Mernit was consulting program manager for The Knight News Challenge, 2008-09; was a 2012 Stanford Carlos McClatchy Fellow; and is a board adviser to The Center for Health Reporting at USC, Annenberg School of Journalism. She has consulted with many non-profit organizations on strategy, product development and social media/engagement, including, TechSoup Global, Public Radio International and the Institute for Policy Studies/Economic Hardship Reporting Project, led by Barbara Ehrenreich.

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