If you are fortunate enough to have had access to produce that was not being displayed under artificial lighting in a supermarket, you know that there is most definitely a difference in the taste of freshly picked fruits and vegetables.

One of my most fond memories of childhood is when I would go spend a week with my grandmother on her farm during the summers. Among other daily activities like gathering eggs from under the hens and feeding (slopping) the pigs, we would pick watermelons from her large patch. Having lived her whole life on a farm, she never went anywhere without a large knife, so after she let me pick out my own watermelon, she would slice out a big piece of it for me, right there in the field.

The melon was always warm and crisp, and as I chomped into it, the sweet juice would be running down my chin.

Though eating the product out in the fields is not something I would suggest when you go take part in the U-Pick at Hunsader Farms in Bradenton, the liberating and enlightening process of finding and cultivating your own fresh food is highly recommended.

The U-Pick season runs roughly from September to May at Hunsader Farms, with different varieties of fruits and vegetables having limited seasons. For instance, if you want black-eyed peas, they’re available to pick from September through November and then again later, during April and May. There is always a running schedule of the seasons on their website.

When I went in early January, I was able to pick grape tomatoes, strawberries, eggplant and a variety of peppers. Upon arrival, you first check into the Farm Market, where they will give you some bags and/or boxes to put your goodies, if you didn’t bring any of your own. They will also show you a map of exactly where to find the different produce items in the fields, because you will be driving your car to the spots. Since the property is more than 100 acres, you will be happy for the directions.

My first stop was at the grape tomatoes, which was right next to the strawberries. I filled up a bag with the tomatoes and a cardboard box top with the strawberries. Though I have had a bit of experience with picking fruits and vegetables, I am by no means an expert, but you don’t have to be to do this. There were people of all ages out in the fields and they were all just taking their time and enjoying the experience.

Afterward, I drove over to the eggplants and peppers section, where I added to my bounty. When I was all done, I went back to the Farm Market, and I found some lettuce, cucumber, spaghetti squash and carrots, all of which they grow and pick there on the farm but were unavailable for the U-Pick that day. My mother, who was with me, also bought some apple butter, which is her absolute favorite.

The day we went to Hunsader, we started out early at 8 a.m., when they first opened. That’s a great time, because it’s a little cooler and less crowded. And yes, I must admit that I did sneak a little taste of a strawberry out in the field. It was sweet and juicy, too.

Debbie Flessner writes the Live Like a Tourist column for the Sun newspapers. You may contact her at dj@flessner.net.

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