Apples U Pick
By Malinda Geisler, content specialist, AgMRC, Iowa State University.
Reviewed March 2012 by J.S. Isaacs.
A pick-your-own apple operation can replace one labor-intensive task-- harvesting, with another -- managing on-farm visitors. By allowing consumers to pick produce for themselves, less labor is required for harvesting and tasks such as grading, storing and packing.
Pick–your-own operations provide many people with their only on-farm experience. As a result, they provide an opportunity to educate consumers about production and a way to market a commodity.
Not all orchards lend themselves to this type of enterprise. Location and appearance are important as the production site must be inviting and convenient. Easy road access and a good parking area are essential. Work hours must be extended to accommodate demand at high traffic times which often fall on evenings and weekends. Inviting customers onto the farm also requires a liability insurance policy.
Whether or not school groups are included, education is another component of a pick-your-own operation. It need not be formalized but all workers who come in contact with the public should be prepared to answer questions. Be sure to anticipate and address consumer concerns about pesticide use, both organic and conventional, and be prepared to explain the use of calcium or other sprays that may leave streaks on the apples.
Repeat customers will learn to request particular varieties. Educate potential regulars by allowing them to sample different varieties. It’s important to advertise regularly through both local media and the Internet. Promote your location and the on-farm experience. Emphasize the qualitative difference of freshly picked produce and price it accordingly.
By using uniform containers, produce may be sold by weight. If customers bring their own containers, the containers have to be weighed before harvesting. Another option is pricing by each item. This works well for school groups.
Repeat customers will learn to request particular varieties. Educate potential regulars by allowing them to sample different varieties to cultivate a knowledge of fruit diversity.
There are many pick-your-own orchards operating today—some in their fourth or fifth generation. Those farmers willing to incorporate agritourism into their enterprise mix will find numerous case studies for examples.
- Fresh Market Apples, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA, 2005 - This report reviews fresh apple markets in the United States.
- Fruits and Tree Nuts, Briefing Room, ERS, USDA - This government portal provides general information and statistics on the U.S. fruits and nut tree industries.
- National Directory of Farmers Market and Direct Marketing Associations, Ag Marketing Service, USDA - Using this national database, find the nearest farmers' market and direct market association.
- Apple, University of Georgia - This provides an overview of apple cultivars, production, harvest, handling and nutrient content.
- Agritourism in the Bluegrass Sponsored by Lexington, Kentucky’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, this site demonstrates some of the complementary aspects of agritourism.
- County Line Orchard, Hobart, Indiana - The owners claim their orchard is the closest pick-your-own apple orchard to downtown Chicago. The 40-acre orchard is operated by the McAfees, a fifth-generation Indiana farm family. Apples are ripe from mid August until the end of October. The farm hosts tens of thousands of students and teachers for educational tours.
- Goold Orchards, Castleton, New York - The family at Goold Orchards has been involved in farming since 1910. In addition to pick-your-own apples, strawberries and raspberries, the farm store is open year-round with apples and pasteurized cider. A bakery sells products from September until January. The farm offers online ordering, school tours and an annual apple festival.
- Lost Acres Orchard, North Granby, Connecticut - This orchard, owned and operated by the Watka family, offers more than 20 varieties of pick-your-own apples. Along with other fresh produce, its farm store sells fresh-baked goods including apple pies, jams, jellies, local honey and other products.
- Wright's Apple Farm, Gardiner, New York - This apple farm ships apples and homemade jams and jellies all over the United States and Europe. The fifth-generation farm also offers pick-your-own apples, a fruit stand and bakery.
Links checked July 2013.