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Grow Together at Underwood Family Farms
August, 2009 - Issue #58
"Daddy, do watermelons grow on trees?"

Questions like these are inevitable from a 6-year-old. And it was a good one. Watermelon is considered a fruit, and Laurel knows from the citrus trees in our backyard that fruit grows on trees.

But I laughed before I answered. I imagined myself in a watermelon orchard dodging falling 10-pound produce.

The next time your little brainiac tries to stump you with agricultural trivia, take them straight to the source - a farm. Underwood Family Farms in Moorpark grows a variety of crops throughout the year and gives visitors an opportunity to pick crops straight from the field.

With a wad of plastic bags and a stack of plastic clam shell boxes, we drug the kids and a borrowed wagon out into the furrowed fields in search of the earth's bounty.

Our first stop was lettuce. We found full, lush heads of red lettuce with their burgundy leaves shining in the sun along with rows of romaine begging for croutons, shaved parmesan and a tart Caesar dressing.

We paused to read the handy crop descriptions and picking instructions posted on a stake at the head of each row. Who knew you're supposed to grab a head of lettuce with both hands and twist it like a steering wheel? Or that broccoli squeaks when it's ripe? Unfortunately, the broccoli was picked clean by earlier visitors, so the fields were silent.

The kids caught on very quickly that this was a do-it-yourself project and went after the round carrots (smaller and easier to pick than their supermarket cousins) with a bunny's enthusiasm. Knowing we had to pay for and eat what we picked, we quickly paused their enthusiastic extractions.

We didn't drive all the way to Moorpark for rabbit food, however. We were lured by the promise of fresh-picked strawberries. We sent Laurel, Drew and Brooke down the rows of Albion strawberries ("a big uniform fruit with a luscious red hue and robust flavor" the sign declared) and their boxes slowly filled with the fruit of their labors. They would have filled faster, but the kids insisted on a thorough quality assurance regimen, as evidenced by their red-stained faces and fingers.

I too sampled straight from the source, and I must say, these were far better than the bland, white-inside version that lands in our supermarket produce department. Firm, juicy, and red all the way through, these were like tasting summer.

With several pounds of fresh produce loaded on the wagon, we headed over to the other part of the farm that captured the kids' attention when we arrived - the animal displays and playground.

"Daddy, come here! I found some horses," 3-year-old Brooke called. As I joined her at the paddock fence she re-evaluated the six grazing animals. "Maybe they're ponies."

She was right, as she often is. We stood and watched them munch on the grass before moving on to visit with Penelope the pig, who was snorting in her muddy pen. Each of the kids took turns trying to feed Steve and Irwin, a pair of hungry emus. Their insistent pecking at the wire scared the kids. Fearing for their fingers, they dropped more food outside the cage than they actually managed to get in the feeding tube to the ostrich-like birds.

When not communing with the animals, Laurel, Drew and Brooke busied themselves by climbing on the miniature wooden train and fire truck. That was a good thing because it meant they were distracted. And they wouldn't think to ask me if watermelons are a fruit or a vegetable.

Eric Harnish lives in Newhall and rarely eats his vegetables.

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Underwood Family Farms

3370 Sunset Valley Road, Moorpark
805-529-3690
www.underwoodfamilyfarms.com
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