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Readers Choice 2021

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I n the 2021 Sentinel Readers Choice poll, our new categories included "Best U-Pick Farm." Lots of readers took the opportunity to vote in this cate- gory. The winner is Gizdich Ranch, with Live Earth Farm being named runner-up. Gizdich Ranch I recently spoke to Vince Gizdich, who owns the popular institution Gizdich Ranch (gizdich-ranch.com). Vince represents the third generation of the farm's heritage. His grandfather Vincent John Gizdich was the original owner and retired in 1959, when Vincent's son, Vince Gizdich, Jr., took over. The Vince who runs it now—who I got the chance to talk to—is Vince Gizdich III. "My son will soon follow in my footsteps," he shares. I asked Vince why so many people enjoy doing u-picks, and he cited three reasons. "First, an interesting fact I have found: if I speak to 10 people, seven of these will have a direct connection to a farm," he says. "Things like 'when I was a kid, I used to pick apricots in San Jose' or 'I used to go to my uncle's farm in the summer when I was a kid,' or 'where I lived as a child, there were farms all around me.' Seems like they want to rekindle a fond memory of what it was like before, and they want to pass this down to their kids." The second reason: some people like picking their own fruit because they are what Vince refers to as "food proces- sors:" they are going to make jam or pies and want "…some vine- or tree-ripened fruit that is good." Last but not least, says Vince, doing u-picks is a fun family outing, a chance for the family to be out together. "They can do something together, and harvest food, and when they come home there can be even more family bonding as Mom shows the kids how to make pie or jam," he says. Especially these days, there are less activities like these to choose from, so people are drawn to u-picks more than ever. The ranch has 30 acres of apples and berries. Because of the pandemic, and the staff shortages that have afflicted many in the food, agriculture, and restaurant industries, things look a little different during today's Gizdich u-picks, but they are still occurring. For example, in the past there were sometimes staff members who could come to customers where they were picking to help weigh the fruit. Now, customers have to walk a little – just 100 yards or so. Gizdich Ranch has offered berry u-picks since 1964. The most popular berry is olallieberry. "People really enjoy it because of its unique flavor," Vince says. The olallieberry season starts around the middle of June. The other berries offered in Gizdich's "Pik-Yor-Self" program are strawberries, blackberries, and boysenberries. A quick search through Gizdich Yelp reviews for "berry picking" at Gizdich Ranch yielded details from many happy customers over the years. Someone who visited in 2013 with their two-year-old son has this precious memory: "I cannot tell you how much my son enjoyed picking strawberries, his smiles and excitement made our hearts swell." A 2017 customer took her family for berry picking and "…had so much fun…I honestly did not think we would have such a good time doing something so simple. The berries were sweet and delicious." A 2021 visitor, who came with a large family group, mentions being "lucky enough to be there for olallieber- ries and boysenberries! These are special because you can't buy them fresh, since they are so fragile, so the only way to eat them fresh is to go to u-pick." She also calls the strawberry fields "easy to navigate…with lots of big berries easily available for picking." Apple u-picks started at Gizdich about 15 years ago. The season happens every September for about a month and draws lots of people. Before the pandemic, they also offered field trips where kids would come with their classes and get tours and pick apples; unfortunately, those had to be canceled in 2020 and 2021. Still, Gizdich managed to win first runner-up for "Best Preschool Activities" this year! Parents love bringing their kids to pick fruit and enjoy picnics afterwards. You can bring your own (accompanied by the fruit you just picked, of course) or purchase food from the Gizdich deli and pie shop. Treats include deli sandwiches, ice cream (including Polar Bear Olallie and Strawberry), a drink called an apple slush, and apple and Olallie popsicles. Now let's talk about the drool-worthy and famous pie—and note that if you can't make it to Gizdich itself, many San- ta Cruz County stores carry the pies too. These include Shopper's Corner and AJ's Market. At Gizdich you'll find several pie varieties, all made fresh on-site; eat it by the slice or get a whole one! Apple and olallieberry are the top two sellers; other baked goods include apple dumplings with caramel sauce. Gizdich also sells scrumptious jams (we are giant fans of Olallieberry jam at my house) and fresh pressed apple juice containers. Live Earth Farm Jessica Ridgeway, Executive Director of nonprofit education organization Farm Discovery at Live Earth Farm, is delight- ed that family-owned Live Earth Farm (liveearthfarm.net) earned runner-up in the Best U-Pick Farm category. "Live Earth Farm is committed to community. Since its inception 25 years ago, LEF has doubled down on every opportunity to make the farm a place for community." In 2021, knowing that Farm Discovery's large events (Sheep to Shawl Fair and Harvest Festival) probably wouldn't happen due to the pandemic, LEF and FD teamed up "…to make one u-pick a month something extra special with local artisan snacks and treats, live music and additional farm fun activities like bouquet picking and making, potato dig- ging, garlic braiding, seed starting and tractor rides," says Jessica. "Plus, we all worked really hard to cultivate a low-risk environment that felt like a safe way to be together in challenging times." For those unfamiliar with Farm Discov- ery, it's the resident LEF nonprofit. "The farm runs the farming operations, CSA, farmers' markets, wholesale accounts and employs about 30 staff," Jessica ex- plains. The nonprofit focuses on making Families Love to Pick Fruit at Gizdich Ranch and Live Earth Farm by Tara Fatemi Walker 14 | 2021 READERS CHOICE AWARDS | FEBRUARY 17, 2022 S A N TA C R U Z S E N T I N E L . C O M

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