As much as I love NYC’s parks and playgrounds, sometimes you just need to take a day trip and get out of the city for a little bit. Though the concrete jungle is beautiful, every now and then I just gotta hit the road and connect with nature. And let me tell you, if that’s what you aim to do, this family-friendly farm is definitely worth the drive.
I recently took a trip to Alstede Farms in Chester, NJ to see its sunflower maze and pick some peaches, and it greatly exceeded my expectations. When I arrived, after a nearly 2-hour drive from my Queens home, I was surprised by how lively the farm was. The peach festival was in full swing. Children were jumping in an inflatable bounce house, riding ponies, and climbing a rather sturdy structure made of hay bails. The grounds were covered in flowers and picture perfect photo set-ups. Folk music filled the air as a live band played. The smell of moist hay, fresh peach ice cream, and recently washed calf was rustic and nostalgic and perfectly captured the essence of life on a farm.
After acquainting myself with the festivities, I purchased my pick-your-own admission, grabbed a wagon and a box to carry my produce, and hit the trails. When you first enter the picking grounds, there’s a field of sunflowers and other cut-your-own flowers. Beautiful as they are, don’t be fooled—those aren’t part of the sunflower maze. They’re just there if you wanted to take a few flowers home. The real maze is further down the road, which is a bit of a walk, or a quick tractor ride, away. If walking long distances isn’t your cup of tea, I would definitely recommend the tractor ride service. It has stops located at all the best picking areas, plus it’s not every day you get hauled around on a real tractor. Sure beats the MTA, if you ask me.
The fields were filled with laughter and kids being hauled in produce-filled wagons. A child with “sticky peach hands” (as his mother called them) reached out to pet my dog (Alstede Farms is totally pet friendly!). A parent and his toddler asked me for help finding which berries were ripe. A little girl gave my dog a tomato to play with. It was a thoroughly family-friendly and wholesome atmosphere.
When it came to the actual produce, I learned a few things the hard way. I would recommend picking your vegetables first and then heading for the peaches. The veggies are a little heavier and sturdier, so they’ll crush any super ripe peaches if you set them on top. Secondly, if you plan on digging your own potatoes, bring a little trowel. I came unprepared and ended up squatting in the dirt, hitting the potatoes with literal sticks and stones like a caveman. Lastly, as with any outdoor experience, bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and bug spray. Picking your own fruits and veggies can be an all day outing, so keep that in mind when preparing for your visit.
Finally I made my way to the sunflower maze and it was everything I had hoped and more. The fields were a beautiful golden that you could see from a mile away. I left my wagon at the entrance (because really, who’s gonna steal my veggies?) and entered. The paths were wide enough for a whole family and had facts about sunflowers on cute info-graphic signs. Standing in the center, all you could see were tall, flourishing flowers, reaching their faces toward the sunshine. It was gorgeous. The maze was difficult enough to be a challenge, but not so much so that one could truly get lost. At the end was an observation deck that you could climb up and get the full view of the flowers and the perfect Instagram photo.
After the maze, I hitched a ride on a tractor back to the farm store. It was a cute place with so many delicious baked goods available, but I had my eye on the wine tastings in the back. Tomasello Winery was offering five tastings for $5, plus you can keep the glass. The menu included all sorts of goodies from blackberry wine to pineapple cider and mulled spice wine. I ended up taking two bottles of wine home, with some apple cider doughnuts and pumpkin butter (because I have an insane sweet tooth and can never say no to a good fruit butter). Overall, I’d say my visit was a solid 9/10, with the potential to be a 10/10 if I personally had prepared a little better.
If you’re interested in going as well, Alstede Farms is located at 1 Alstede Farms Lane, Chester, NJ, and is open daily, 9am-8pm. It has a number of berries available for picking as well as peaches, pears, nectarines, and apples if you’ve really got a hankering for fruits. For all you veggies lovers out there, they grow potatoes, gourds, pumpkins, beans, peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, corn, leafy greens, peas, and more. Not everything is available year-round, so it’s worth checking its harvest schedule. For more information, call 908-528-8823 or fill out the online contact form.