One of my favorite memories as a kid was going to a local farm during the summer to pick berries with my family — we’d each take a box and pick until we couldn’t carry any more.
As a result, I’ve really come to love the idea of farms that invite people to come out and buy or pick what they grow. They’re fun to visit, and it’s a way to know exactly where your produce is coming from. And buying locally is always a good idea.
Avila Valley Barn is a great local example, and not just because of all the great local produce — it offers so much more than that. The barn also sells ice cream and baked goods, has a variety of animals to visit and has a store full of homemade, specialty food items.
Avila Valley Barn started in the 1980s and was much smaller than it is now. According to Sandra Olea, one of the managers, it was “a picnic table with an umbrella” and a small amount of produce. The place is a “family outing,” Olea said.
“It’s a whole different experience of farming and how it is to grow our own produce and our food,” Olea said. “It grew as a family environment type thing … and it still is.”
The Ice Cream and Sweet Shoppe opened in 2005, and the store now offers a wide range of delicious-looking gourmet and specialty items such as cheeses and spreads, as well as cooking books and supplies. There’s also a range of homemade Avila Valley Barn items such as fruit spread and peanut brittle.
The shop tries to buy local products at Avila Valley Barn, Olea said, and when the barn can’t grow a type of produce itself, the shop will try to buy that locally as well. The store also offers a number of homemade baked goods too, such as pies, turnovers and scones. I love cooking, so I was stoked about this store. I wanted to buy everything. Avila Valley Barn is going to have an online store soon, too, Olea said, so people who live further away can purchase Avila Valley Barn pies.
The farm’s produce comes from 50 acres dedicated to farming as well as leased property around the area. It offers much of the same items you’d see in a grocery store, except it’s all local. Right now it has strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. In summer and fall the number of seasonal produce starts going up and includes olallieberries, nectarines, plums, multiple types of apples and vegetables such as squash, green beans and peppers.
The great thing is much of this produce is available for people to go pick themselves starting in late May. And get this — Olea said on nearby property at Gopher Glen Apple Farm, apple tasting is offered during the season, so people can try up to 60 different varieties.
When the weather gets colder, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be found at the farm, though.
In October and November, it offers more than 20 kinds of pumpkins and gourds, Olea said, and the local schools come to pick pumpkins. I too went pumpkin picking at the farm last October with some friends, and the atmosphere was so much fun. It reminded me of the good old days when I was a kid.
And then, in late November and December, the farm brings out the noble fir trees from Oregon, Olea said. Basically, there’s something great to be found at the farm just about all year round.
If all that wasn’t enough, Avila Valley Barn has a number of adorable, fun animals, including emus, alpacas and donkeys. Olea said most of the animals are permanent residents, but sometimes new ones will come — for example, right now it’s spring, so they have a number of baby animals. I seriously considered trying to take one of the piglets home in my purse.
Olea said she thinks Avila Valley Barn is “definitely at its peak.” It gets adults coming back who came as kids, she said, and teachers who bring students back year after year. A lot of Cal Poly students work there year round as well, according to Olea — she even gets calls about bringing WOW groups there. And this place isn’t just popular with locals. Olea said during the summer a lot of visitors are tourists — for example, there are some visitors who come every year from Fresno. What brings people here is the experience of being at a farm, Olea said.
“I take it for granted because I am here all the time, but to see the joy on these kids’ faces sometimes … to me it’s just a magical little place.”
It didn’t take me long to love this place, and I bet you all will too if you don’t already. With all the stress and worry that we have in our lives, a place such as Avila Valley Barn is pure, simple fun that is a great idea anytime.