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Cherry pickin’ time

Have some family fun and get the freshest, sweetest fruit possible — just up the road

Posted: June 11, 2009 4:57 p.m.
Updated: June 12, 2009 6:06 a.m.

Villa del Sol Sweet Cherry Farms, in Leona Valley, is approximately one-half hour north of the SCV via the 14 freeway.

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Villa del Sol Sweet Cherry Farms, in Leona Valley, California, is the largest you-pick cherry orchard in Southern California, with more than 3,600 trees.

The 25 acre farm was started by the Shafer family in 1999 and the location was specifically chosen for many reasons. Optimum fruit taste and texture, terrain and climate are very important.

The orchard cascades down a south facing slope that allows the sunshine to gently warm the ground, preventing freezing of the delicate fruit in the spring. Warm air is filtered through the trees, which is needed for an optimum crop.

You can call the cherry hotline at (661) 270-1356 to hear last minute updates, but the orchard currently has about 1,000 trees with ripe Bings and Rainiers, with more to ripen over the weeks. The orchard is opened section by section as the cherries ripen.

There is no fee to pick cherries and you will be charged $3 per pound on checkout. Red, 2.5 gallon buckets are available for use when picking your cherries. These hold approximately 11 pounds of cherries each. Paper bags are available to carry your cherries home in.

The list of picking instructions and orchard rules is available on the Web site, www.upickcherries.com, but it is important to know that no pets are allowed in the orchard, nor are ice chests, coolers, backpacks, chairs or stools, alcohol or cigarettes.

Maxi Case and her husband Gary Shafer are the owners and operators of the orchard, and Case said cherry picking is a great family outing. "Visit a real orchard with good fresh air, good family fun, plus wonderful fruit to take home," Case said. "And it's only a half hour from Santa Clarita."

"We also have wonderful raw honey," Case said. "During the pollination we had 100 bee hives in the orchard and our bee keeper extracted the honey from the hives. But don't worry, the bees have been removed from the orchard for the picking season."

"We have ample parking, its easy to find, very clean and professional," Case added. "We have about 25 employees but it's a family operated business."

Case noted that it's a good time to pick cherries. "It's not too hot, but maybe throw a sweater in the car. It's much better to pick now than when its 110 degrees. The cherries are nice and firm and crisp. And we don't mind if people taste a few while picking."

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