Spring comes early here in Florida, which means it’s already strawberry season in Osceola County.
Mick Farms in St. Cloud is offering fresh U-pick strawberries Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays through April. It’s a place to bring the kids and grab some fresh vegetables at the family’s roadside produce stand after a late morning in the field.
The farm is a labor of love for Aaron and Lyndsye Mick, who acquired the 32-acre property off Canoe Creek Road last February through a lease-to-own agreement. The farm is a comfortable 35-minute drive from Kissimmee.
The couple previously worked on local commercial farms mostly growing corn, but said they yearned for a place to call their own.
“It’s always something we had in the back of our minds, that we wanted to find a lot of property in St. Cloud,” Lyndsye said.
Aaron previously made a living in construction, but the economic downturn a decade ago hit the industry hard, making it nearly impossible to find work.
“But even in a recession, people have to eat,” Aaron said. “That’s when I really got into farming.”
The family started clearing their new land in April, and by fall, were ready to harvest crops like golden zucchini, sweet bell peppers, jalapenos, pumpkins and squash.
It’s always been a family affair on Mick Farms. The couple’s eight children – ages 2 to 15 years old - pitch in during harvest time and help bag produce for customers who come to visit the family’s stand on the weekends.
It’s a special lifestyle, Lyndsye said. It’s different from how she grew up in the city, but she admitted she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Farming is hard work, but it helps keep you focused on what matters,” she said. “You’re not distracted by your screens and devices when you’re out in the field. In the afternoon, you can lay the little ones down on a blanket under a tree for their nap and keep an eye on them while you work. It’s nice that way.”
Aaron and Lyndsye decided to open a U-pick strawberry field shortly before Christmas after seeing the success of others in the area.
“We saw that a lot of people want to U-pick,” Lyndsye said. “They want to get involved and get out there.”
Florida strawberry season usually lasts from Thanksgiving to Easter – weather permitting. The weather has been kind to the Micks this year, with no freezes to damage the delicate, low-lying fruit. It’s the first fruit crop grown by the family on this farm, and Lyndsye said the one-acre plot of berries should continue to ripen through April.
The U-pick operation has been a hit. The Micks estimate up to 500 people visited the strawberry field last Saturday.
“We used to drive to Plant City to pick our own strawberries,” Lyndsye said. “It’s a lot nicer having it right in your backyard.”
There are challenges to the U-pick business though. Hungry visitors are apt to munch on ripe fruit right in the field, or confiscate handfuls in their pockets instead of putting them in a bucket for a proper weigh-in.
Others aren’t exactly mindful when they cross over the rows, causing damage to the fragile strawberry leaves and branches.
“It’s been a learning process,” Aaron said as he surveyed his field Sunday morning. “We just try to remind everyone to be respectful. It’s fun to come pick and we’re happy to have folks, but this is also our livelihood.”
In addition to its U-pick, Mick Farms offers other great services and plans to add even more in the future.
By next week, Lyndsye hopes to re-launch a special Farmer’s Pick produce crate that proved successful last year.
Customers can go online to the farm’s website, www.mickfarmmarket.com, to order crates ranging in size from a family of two for $15 to a family of six for $35.
Once an order is placed, a customer simply picks up their weekly crate filled with seasonal veggies and fruit at the farm.
Lyndsye said she was inspired by produce programs like Hello Fresh, and wants to add recipe cards one day that are tailored to a person’s produce selection.
People can either pre-pay for their crate online or at the stand – with cash or credit card.
Next month, customers will be able to choose from vegetables including broccoli, kale, carrots, beets and radishes, along with more unique picks like purple cauliflower.
Lyndsye said she’s excited to harvest that last vegetable because it’s difficult to find in local grocery stores.
“We want people to come to know us as a place where they can get things they can’t find anywhere else,” she said. “It’s good, local food right here in Osceola County.”