Pick Your Own Organic Apples at Gabriel Farm
Starting in 2012, you need to be a member of Gabriel Farm's CSA to participate in apple picking at the farm. You can sign up for a membership at the farm; the share consists of a case of six half-gallon bottles of the farm's Asian pear juice ($35). Non-members can still visit the farm store.
Late summer and early fall are apple season, and plenty of the tasty fruits can be found north of Marin in western Sonoma County, particularly in the area around Sebastopol, which is famous for its apples. Early every September, we head up there for a visit to Gabriel Farm, a family-run, certified organic farm on fourteen acres in the Graton area on the north side of Sebastopol. Gabriel Farm is especially fun to visit at this time of year because you can head out into the orchard and pick your own apples!
Gabriel Farm is open for apple picking on weekends from late August or early September through October from 11 am to 4 pm. (They're open this Monday, Labor Day, too.) Keep in mind they close at 4, so if you want to spend some time picking apples on the farm, count on arriving no later than 3:30 pm. Gabriel Farm also offers weekday visits and school group or group tours by appointment; call them at (707) 829-0617 to make arrangements.
We pulled into their small parking lot and headed down the path to their farm store and orchards, pausing to admire the large sculpture of Johnny Appleseed made from recycled car parts. Along with the pick-your-own apples, Gabriel Farm also grows several varieties of Asian pears, which aren't part of the pick-it-yourself deal, as well as Fuyu persimmons (not in season yet), blackberries, lavender, flowers, and more.
Our kids, being apple-picking veterans, each grabbed a bin, and a friendly farmhand led us on a quick tour of the orchards, showing us the different kinds of apples growing there, and letting us know which varieties were ready to pick. She also showed us the proper way to pick apples, so as not to damage the tree branches, and welcomed us to taste any fruit we liked, which of course we did—there's nothing quite like munching on a freshly picked organic apple in the middle of an apple orchard on a beautiful warm late summer day. The trees are all relatively small and laden with fruit, so it was no problem for little hands to reach plenty of apples to pick.
This year, Gabriel Farm has a beaufitul crop. Apple varieties ready to pick include Gilbert Golden Delicious (an heirloom variety way, way better than the mealy versions you find in the supermarket), Jonagolds, and Galas. They also grow Rome Beauty, Fuji, and McIntosh, although they weren't available to pick on our visit; it all depends on what's currently ripe, of course.
Take your haul back to the shop where they'll weigh it up. The price this season is a reasonable $2 per pound. One thing we've learned over the course of several visits here is that it's really easy to pick a huge amount of apples in a very short amount of time, especially when you have two excited children doing the work! Gabriel Farm suggests a budget of at least $20 for your apple-picking excursion.
All these varieties keep well in your refrigerator, so don't be afraid if you have a lot. We usually end up with nearly 10 pounds of apples from Gabriel Farm, and they always keep fine in our refrigerator's crisper drawer for a couple months, or however long it takes us to eat them all. We find ourselves trying out a lot of new apple recipes after our annual visit here, and apples are perfect to pack for school lunches, too.
Visit the farm store where they also sell bottles of their organic Asian pear apple juice. They keep cold bottles in the refrigerator, and it makes for a refreshing post-apple-picking treat. They also sell Asian pears, jam, dried lavender, frozen yogurt, and more, and samples are available of some of their products.
There are a few picnic tables on the farm grounds, so you can pack your lunch and make a day of it if you like. This is definitely a family-friendly place to visit, and they have sidewalk chalk available for drawing, beanbags for tossing, and cut-outs for picture-taking.
For more information on Gabriel Farm, visit their website at www.gabrielfarm.com or call them at (707) 829-0617. Make sure you check their site before you go, as it will tell you what's currently available for picking.
If you can't make it up to the farm to pick apples yourself, you can find Gabriel Farm at the Sunday morning Marin Civic Center Farmer's Market throughout the season, where they'll be selling their amazing fruit and farm products.
If you go
Gabriel Farm is located at 3175 Sullivan Road in Graton, about a 45-minute drive north of Marin and approximately four-and-a-half miles north of downtown Sebastopol. Take Highway 101 north to the Highway 116/Sebastopol exit. Head west on 116 to Sebastopol, then drive through Sebastopol following the signs for Highway 116 North/Gravenstein Highway. Drive north on Highway 116 until you get to Graton Road and turn left there at the signal light. Follow Graton Road west through the little village of Graton, and keep going until you see Sullivan Road. Turn right on Sullivan; Gabriel Farm is on your immediate right.
Parking is available in a small lot at the entrance to the farm, as well as along Sullivan Road. Restroom facilities—in the form of a porta-potty—can be found near the parking lot.
Make a day of it and bring your lunch to eat at the farm. If we don't end up packing lunch, we like to grab a bite to eat at the family-friendly Mom's Apple Pie, up the road a short distance at 4550 Gravenstein Highway North. They offer inexpensive sandwiches, soups, and salads, but make sure you save room for pie—they have 16 varieties to choose from, including apple pie made from Gravenstein apples grown right behind the shop. You can read our article here.
Gabriel Farm is a real-live family farm, so make sure you wear shoes and pants that you don't mind getting dirty.
If the kids still have energy to burn off, try paying a visit to Ragle Ranch Regional Park, located nearby at 500 Ragle Ranch Road. The park has a huge playground, grassy sports fields, a nature trail, and picnic areas for the whole family to enjoy. Open sunrise to sunset year-round, there's a $6 per vehicle day-use fee.
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