Agricultural tourism (better known as “agro-tourism”) has taken off in recent years, with once exclusively working farms now hosting thousands of guests annually to try their hand at picking fruits and vegetables straight from the source. These “U-pick” farms are particularly popular as the weather turns cooler, with apple orchards and pumpkin patches the centerpieces of the agro-tourism boom. If you’re headed out to pick your own produce, below are several tips for ensuring your experience is as fruitful (get it?) as possible. And don’t forget to grab a glass of freshly pressed cider for the road!
Brush up on the “fruits” of knowledge. Sure, the process of picking fruit is fun, but if you get home and end up with a whole basket of pears that are past their prime, that’s a whole lot of food waste. Instead, spend a few minutes asking the farm managers how to best identify which fruits are ripe and ready for picking based on your local climate and time of year. For example, when it comes to apples, the fruits ripen from the outside of the tree toward the middle, so the ripest apples will be hanging on the outer branches. Ripe apples are also easy to pluck from the branch—no tugging or twisting required.
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Go “bulk” or go home. When it comes to buying produce in large quantities (like bushels and pecks) for canning and baking, U-pick farms offer a fresher selection and, more often than not, better prices than what can be found at grocery stores for bulk produce. Plus, preservers and cooks can get exactly the unique variety of fruit they’re looking for: Choose from Honeycrisp apples, Baldwin apples or Jonagold apples instead of settling for the run-of-the-mill Red Delicious.
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Dress the part. It might be tempting to wear your favorite flouncy dress and expensive boots to treat the farm like a photo shoot, but at the end of the day, safety comes first. Johnson’s Farm Produce in Hobart, Indiana outlines on their website an ideal dress code for anyone coming to pick produce. Their recommendations? Wear a hat, gym shoes with socks and make sure to bring sunscreen and a bottle of water.
And, of course, fresh is best. The real magic behind U-pick farms is that everyone is given the chance to select their own produce straight from the source—even if you couldn’t grow a garden on a dare. Appreciating such a unique opportunity is what keeps people coming back, year after year. “We have a saying and it goes like this, ‘You know it’s fresh because you picked it yourself!’ Dana Reed of Reed Valley Orchard in Paris, Kentucky notes. “We get a lot of smiles from people because they know what they’re picking is grown here and not shipped from hundreds of miles away. They know it’s going to taste good!”
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