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Pick Your Own Strawberries At This Back Of The Yards Farm

By Janet Rausa Fuller | June 8, 2016 6:14am | Updated on June 10, 2016 11:50am

The half-acre Pie Patch Farm is a pick-your-own orchard in the heart of Back of the Yards. [Dave Vondle]

BACK OF THE YARDS — The Pie Patch Farm is open for picking.

The half-acre pick-your-own fruit farm, tucked into a quiet pocket in the Back of the Yards at 5045 S. Laflin St., welcomed its first official customers Sunday to pick strawberries, the youngest of whom exhibited sure signs of a fruitful first harvest: juice streaking down their mouths.

“I was encouraging people to taste the different varieties and see which ones they prefer. The kids definitely took that to heart,” said the farm’s founder Breanne Heath.

About half of the 40 or so who came were friends and co-workers of Heath, who runs the Pie Patch aside from her full-time job as garden and education manager for the Peterson Garden Project.

The other half were neighborhood residents, who have quietly watched the farm take shape since Heath broke ground last year. A few weeks ago, when she finally put up the farm's permanent sign, “they suddenly got very chatty,” she said.

Heath is managing the plot of land under a three-year agreement with the nonprofit Su Casa Catholic Worker, which operates a family shelter and soup kitchen out of a old friary overlooking the garden beds.

This plot has a history of growing fruits and vegetables that goes back three decades. The nonprofit Growing Home, where Heath used to work, had a garden on the site for eight years until 2014. It sat unused until Heath re-connected with Su Casa.

Pie Patch Farm's founder Breanne Heath said the sign generated a lot of interest among neighborhood residents. [Cortney Ahern]

It’s fertile ground and, as of September, USDA-certified organic. Heath said she pursued certification as a way to show Chicagoans the potential in the green spaces that surround them.

“It’s really hard to find certified organic strawberries or fruits in general. Especially in the strawberry industry, there’s a lot of conventional berries being heavily sprayed with pesticides,” she said. “The other part is with growing food in the city. People are, I think, really suspicious of whether the soil is good or whether they can grow things without having to use a lot of chemicals."

Heath said there will be plenty of strawberries for the next four to six weeks. One ever-bearing variety should continue to produce fruit until December.

Raspberries and mulberries will be ready to pick in July.

Anyone can come and pick at the Pie Patch. Picking days and hours (posted online) are limited to one weekend day for the next few weeks: Saturday and June 18 and June 26.

It works like any U-Pick farm, only on a much smaller scale. Pay for a quart or pint container, $3 to $4 depending on the fruit, then fill it. There’s no limit on containers.

“One lady left the other day with probably a dozen" containers, Heath said.

The strawberry harvest at Pie Patch Farm will continue through June. [Cortney Ahern]

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