My family visits Alstede Farms in Chester, NJ, at least once a summer, if not more. The farm’s grounds, about an hour from our area, never fail to entertain my two young children with its variety of things to do.
Foremost are the pick-your-own activities. Last weekend, we visited the farm for the Strawberry Festival, where my kids were thrilled at the prospect of picking their favorite fruit all by themselves, but also by riding on the hay wagon that takes families out to the strawberry fields. Piled onto bales of hay along with other families eager to loot the fruit bushes for a bounty of plump, red berries, we didn’t mind the bumpy ride or the hot sun as we were escorted through fields of yet-to-ripen blueberries, apples and currants.
As of now, strawberries are the only fruit ready for picking at Alstede, but that will quickly change when raspberries, gooseberries, blueberries and currants start coming up later this month. You can pick-your-own at Alstede from the end of May, when the strawberries start coming up, to November when corn, potatoes, pumpkins and pears are still available. Throughout the summer, there are also peaches, melons and vegetables ripe for the taking. (For a harvest schedule, click here.)
On our Saturday visit, the strawberry fields provided ample picking. There are rows and rows of bushes and while some had been well picked over by previous visitors, there was more than enough left over. My kids loved searching for the berries and checking them over for ripeness. Many had to be discarded because of overripeness or bruising, but we still managed to walk away with four full cartons of colorful, ripe berries. You could easily spend hours in the fields and walk away with several pounds worth–as many other families seemed to have done, judging by the appearance of their overflowing boxes of berries–but unless you plan on freezing the berries, or turning them into jam, I wouldn’t go overboard. Our berries were delicious, but within two or three days they had started going bad (which is actually a good thing: it means they’re fresh and not covered in pesticides).
Besides, there is more to do at Alstede’s than pick your own fruit. There are also pony rides, a moonbounce, a giant hay pyramid for climbing, a wagon train ride and many animals to feed and pet, including cows, rabbits, goats, pigs, peacocks and horses. There is also hot food, drinks and ice cream for sale as well as picnic tables and–new this year–a wine bar for the adults. Alstede also has a market that sells its fruits and vegetables as well as plants and flowers and gardening supplies.
The drawbacks to Alstede: on some weekends, the farm is packed. There can be long lines to buy tickets, purchase food and simply wait for your turn on a ride. An exception is the hay ride out to the fruit fields. In previous years, wagons came every ten minutes or so and we often watched one or two pass us by before we could find room on another. This year, the farm seems to have caught on and has added several wagons to the route so that there is a steady stream transporting people back and forth.
Prices can also add up. Our simple farm visit cost around $50, including two bottles of water (but no other food). It’s pennies compared to Disney, but somehow it seemed a lot. Still, my family plans to go back in mid-July, just in time for peach picking.
84 Route 513 (Old Route 24), Chester, NJ
GPS ADDRESS: 1 Chesterfield Drive, Chester, NJ 07930 (they are directly across the street)