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PYO

 
steward
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Pick Your Own

It is my intention to buy a piece of land and establish a Pick Your Own produce operation.

I've looked at and tried several marketing strategies and this looks like the path I want to follow.  The trend in vegetables is moving towards local, fresh, and organic. CSAs, and Farmers Markets are making excellent strides in gaining popularity as well as market share.  I've dipped my feet in the PYO stream and found it to be warm and inviting.

You can find hints of what I'm talking about in other threads around these forums: Leah Sattler's Pumpkin Patch, u-Pick Orchards, and Brenda Groth's Raspberries.  The farmer establishes and tends the crop, the customers show up for the harvest.  The customer gets exactly what they want at the peak of freshness and at a fair price.  The farmer saves the time and effort of harvesting, processing, packing, and shipping.  This is what Jami McBride would refer to as a Win-Win situation.

I've looked at CSAs and find that the customer does not have the choice of selecting those goods desired.  They get whatever the farmer grows.  The customer has to pay up front, long before the growing season even starts in some cases.  Shared risk they call it.  Great idea, but the flaw is that many people are not willing to risk their limited hard earned produce dollar.  If they are going to spend their money, they should get what they want and get it when they spend their money, and get their money's worth.  In my opinion, its the farmer taking the risk.  If the crop fails, he's out of luck.  Why drag the community down and still get paid for non-performance?

Farmer's Markets are a step in the right direction.  Each farmer brings their crop to market, the customer gets the selection, and top dollar changes hands.  Problems still exist with farmers markets.  Rain is a great concern.  The farmer goes to the trouble of picking, washing, and packing, gets his product to market only to have noone show up because of the weather.  Maybe its a scorching hot day causing the lettuce and greens to wilt on the table.  Sometimes there are no booths available if too many farmers show up.  Some markets demand a commitment by the farmer from the start through the end of the season.  Its a risk, but every enterprise entails some risk.

A PYO offers advantages over both systems.  The product is alive and in the fields.  Hot or cold, rain or shine, it stays fresh.  I would be able to focus more on tending the crops and less on harvesting and post harvesting efforts since I would be on site more often and these steps are reduced.  Rain does not waste my time and effort-there is always something to do around a farm.  

Diversity of income is possible with a wide array of crops.  Early strawberries in June, July raspberries, fruit trees in the fall, a pumpkin patch ready for October.  Vegetables alone can offer as much and more than can be found in a supermarket.  Crops can be ready in early spring and continue past the first frost.  I'm in Florida which offers a growing season year round.  

The addition of a farm stand enhances the farm.  Produce that has been underpicked can be brought in.  There are plenty of people who would pay a little more for fresh picked rather than pick it themselves.  Move on with some home canning and a licensed kitchen, I can offer value added goods and product out of season.  Add in a large crop of dry beans to fix nitrogen in the soil, those dry beans can be offered through the farm stand.  There are crops that are not well suited to successive plantings and ripen all at once.  Potato, fruits and nuts, onions, garlic -all are served with the farm stand.

This sort of project takes a great deal of planning, and a considerable amount of hard work.  Tireless effort can accomplish some incredible things.  Permaculture principles enhance the crops, the land, the farm and the lifestyle.  I've done my homework, now I'm ready to make the next leap.  Right now I'm limited to a quarter acre lot in the middle of town.  Being it is what I have to work with, I figure I'll start here.  Its not yet where I want to be.  I know I can take on much more than this postage stamp of a lot.  I thought I'd toss out the idea, see what you folks have to say.
 
pollinator
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Pick your own is not without problems, however.  You would need to invest a considerable amount of time training your customers on what to pick and what to leave alone, and on how to move through your garden/fields without damaging other crops.  Also you might need to provide a place for children to have supervised play so they wouldn't be romping through your crops and damaging them.  Maybe offer an educational time for them, as well (might as well start young!). 

I've thought about pick your own at times, but I don't think it would work as well now as it might have back when more people grew at least some of their own food and knew more about how to harvest, and how not to damage the rest of the plants in the garden while they were at it.  You might say that I don't have much faith in human nature, LOL!  You could try it on a small scale and see how it worked out before really getting into it.

Kathleen
 
steward
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I'm with Kathleen.  it almost doesn't matter how much instruction we give folks, they'll still manage to pick produce that we don't want them to or trample on something or let their kids climb an apple tree and break branches.  if we specifically forbid picking from a certain row, that's the first place some folks will head.  we still let folks pick produce themselves, and we'll continue to do so, but it does cause considerable frustration.
 
Ken Peavey
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Pick your own is not without problems



I have to agree with you.  I tend to get excited at times, paint a pretty picture. 

The NY farm was started with a PYO crop.
There was the little girl who wanted to pick one of the pretty flowers, a Nasturtium.  Go ahead, I said.  A moment later she showed me the flower she picked, along with all the other flowers, and the stems, and the roots.  C'est la vie.  Innocence is worth a few flowers.

Then there was the fellow who picked an entire plant, roots and all, then asked "is this dill?"  I was disappointed when I responded "No...that was asparagus'"

Much of the world is defenseless in the face of children and fools.  There are ways to lessen losses.  Signage is a start.  Red and green flags for pick/no pick.  Signs stating what the plant is.  Literature is a possibility for harvesting techniques, but I can't force them to read AND understand. 

Kids in the field are an absolute must have.  They are the future of the farm and the community.  They will eat the berries, throw squash, chase the ducks, run through the beds, trample the corn, squish the cabbage, and pee on the peas.  Given time, they will learn.  Some destruction is inevitable and should be expected.  They won't eat so many berries that I'm out of business, the ducks will recover, the peas will thrive.  Extreme destruction, the parents would be asked to control the varmint, remove the creature from the field and, if warranted, would be held accountable.  Stepping in long before it reaches that point would be prudent. 

With kids in the field, some crops would have to be kept out of their reach.  Sunberries, ground cherries and rhubarb for example, can be toxic.  Other plants are kid friendly.  Raspberries and pumpkins are favorites.  I let the parents show them the broccoli and spinach.

Kids bring a farm to life.  The chickens and ducks, pigs and goats.  Plenty to see and do.  Its a learning experience.  Some people bring their kids, some kids bring their parents.  I know a place that grows corn, then sells it to the parents so the kids can feed the animals.  Its good business.  A couple of picnic tables in the right place, a sandbox the cats can't get to, a petting zoo, and of course THE WORMS and the farm moves past a place where plants are grown and animals are fed.  It becomes a family gathering place, a place for making friends and developing community.  Selling produce is not the secret to success, selling fellowship is.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
pollinator
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It sounds like you have the right attitude to make it succeed! 

Kathleen
 
                    
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Kids in the field are an absolute must have.  They are the future of the farm and the community. 

I totally agree.  But why are they such ill-behaved little brats?!  Oh, right.  TV and high fructose corn syrup.
 
Ken Peavey
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Kids are the same as they always have been.  A big white turkey and some mud balls are what its all about.  The kids wont gain an understanding of agriculture at a drive thru.
 
tel jetson
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kpeavey wrote:
poetry



well-said.  your enthusiasm is clearly tempered by experience.  I have to say, though, that I enjoy seeing adults revert to that unselfconscious excitement more than the children who haven't yet learned to suppress it.  doesn't happen often, but getting dirty, or maybe falling on one's ass trying to pull up a carrot seems to flip a switch in some folks, and it's pretty great to witness.
 
gardener
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I just bought a 100 acre farm with a few other folks on a highway with a significant amount of traffic and we're hoping to do a CSA but transition into pick-your-own once the PYO crops come of age. I'm hoping to start small with about a quarter acre each of strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries, while establishing rhubarb, asparagus, blueberries, and fruit tree crops.

I think I may have a tough time balancing polyculture plantings with the logistics of a U pick operation. I don't want to have monocropped straight rows but I understand whats been said above about neighboring crops getting ruined one way or the other.
 
tel jetson
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Travis wrote:
I think I may have a tough time balancing polyculture plantings with the logistics of a U pick operation. I don't want to have monocropped straight rows but I understand whats been said above about neighboring crops getting ruined one way or the other.



it might be more complicated, but certainly not impossible.  I'm not even sure polyculture would present that many new problems.  you'll encourage folks to stay on paths, you'll be extra good about signage, you'll get a feel for who needs a few extra minutes of instructions before you let them out into your gardens.  I might be a bit biased, but picking in polyculture is very much more appealing to me than the alternative.  with 100 acres, you'll have plenty of room to experiment to see what folks like.  experimenting with long-lived tree crops is a bit risky, I suppose, but probably worthwhile.

any chance you feel like divulging your general location?
 
Ken Peavey
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In NY this summer I set up beds 4x50 with 2' paths.  At 4' wide it is an easy reach to the center of the bed while standing in the path.  At 50' long, its not too far to walk to get to the cross paths to get to a different row.  The cross paths were 6' wide to allow turning a rototiller.  While the beds were an excellent size, the paths were entirely too narrow.  4' wide paths are more in line with what is needed to accommodate the layman picker.

lets see if this makes sense
B=Bed P=Path C=cross path
CCCCCPPPPPPPPPPPCCCCCPPPPPPPPPP
CCCCCBBBBBBBBBBBCCCCCBBBBBBBBBB
CCCCCBBBBBBBBBBBCCCCCBBBBBBBBBB
CCCCCPPPPPPPPPPPCCCCCPPPPPPPPPP
CCCCCBBBBBBBBBBBCCCCCBBBBBBBBBB
CCCCCBBBBBBBBBBBCCCCCBBBBBBBBBB
CCCCCPPPPPPPPPPPCCCCCPPPPPPPPPP

The beds closest to the entrance I established with a wide array of plants.  A few tomato, a few pepper, a few leeks, a few of everything.  This gave me a place I could show people what the plants were and how to pick them without having to run all over the field.

The rest of the beds had 1 or 2 types of vegetable.  The place looked fantastic from the road, even better close up.  200 sqft of a single species is not what I would consider a monocrop.  Its a big enough space to get some good production without allowing the bugs to establish a significant population.  If I need more production of a particular crop, I put in another bed with some distance in between.  This also let me have multiple plantings which kept up production.  I had 3 sections of zuchinni, 2 yeller squash, 5 bicolor corn for example, with each successive bed planted a couple of weeks apart.  When a bed is exhausted, I could tear it out and put in something else.

For the beds that had a couple of different plants, say the rutabaga and peas, when one was exhausted I could prep and replant that half of the bed.  The beds near the entrance were more difficult to prep and replant with so many different plants in such a small area.  Where the larger crops could be served with a tiller and wheelbarrel, these small sections had to be done with a shovel and buckets of compost.  Still, they served their purpose.

The main field was plowed 120 wide, 600 long.  I had 16 beds per row and space along the length of the field for a truck and trailer to haul in compost.  11 rows were the target.  Weather conditions, 36 inches of rain over 42 days, and lack of equipment beyond a rototiller allowed prepping and planting of only 7 rows.  Each row was 3200 sqft, so I was able to plant 22400 sqft in the Main field.  There was also the pumpkin patch, about 10k sqft, plus the house garden which was about 8k sqft total area.  I figure about an acre was planted.  Lots of work.

Except for the plowing and initial tilling with a neighbors tractor, the whole thing was done by hand.  Compost was brought in by the dump truck load.  The slope of the land dictated it be dumped only in one spot near the entrance.  For the first few rows a wheelbarrel moved it into the beds.  As I got further from the heap, I shoveled it onto a flatbed trailer hitched to the truck to move it closer to where I was working.  The wheelbarrel took over from that point.  When the compost was in the beds, the rototiller made quick work of turning it into the soil.

A tractor and the right implements would make much quicker work of all this but the tradeoff would be considerably longer beds with much wider paths and cross paths.  For the size of the beds, even a small tractor becomes ungainly in a tight space. 

Whatever you do with your farm, your methods, equipment and space being cultivated all have to be in sync.
 
Travis Philp
gardener
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tel wrote:
it might be more complicated, but certainly not impossible.  I'm not even sure polyculture would present that many new problems.  you'll encourage folks to stay on paths, you'll be extra good about signage, you'll get a feel for who needs a few extra minutes of instructions before you let them out into your gardens.  I might be a bit biased, but picking in polyculture is very much more appealing to me than the alternative.  with 100 acres, you'll have plenty of room to experiment to see what folks like.  experimenting with long-lived tree crops is a bit risky, I suppose, but probably worthwhile.

any chance you feel like divulging your general location?



My location is central Ontario, Canada. We are about 1.5 hours northeast of Toronto, in zone 5 B.

I definitely agree with you that picking in a polyculture is much more appealing. There is no comparison in my mind. I've seen the bliss on my volunteers faces when they are immersed in a keyhole bed with  5 different crops in it. And then I drive by a strawberry U-pick and try to imagine a balance between the two.

The signage and guidance is of course a must, and maybe pictoral handouts too? This is going to be a hell of a lot of signs.

The tree crops are the one thing I most worry about. How to grow veggies and mulch plants underneath while taking into account peoples tendency to not watch where they are walking.  I used to do work for a community garden that was completely no-till raised beds and I lost count of how many people I had to ask to keep off the beds.

I’m  thinking that having four  small paths leading right to the branches would work, with understory plants in obvious raised beds, or at least mulched with a different material than the path. If you think of the circular footprint around a fruit tree as a clock, the paths would be at 12, 3, 6, and 9. Maybe 4 paths is overkill

I’m also thinking of keeping the trees that are farthest from the house with simply a groundcover of clover incase the polyculture deal isn’t working out due to damage or something like that. In that case people can still walk along the forest garden area on the main paths  and then arrive to the U-Pick section. If customers become inquisitive enough or convey enough knowledge of vegetables, then maybe they can be let off at the polyculture section.
 
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On an 75 acre, long and rectangular farm, I plan to start phasing into a U-pick operation by establishing a pumpkin patch out by the county road. It will be a combination upick and grandchildren staffed booth. I'm not too worried about the upick portion because anything that is ruined will be fed to the pigs and chickens. We planted blueberries farther back on the driveway, anticipating a upick there in about 3-4 years. I'm slowly building a fruit orchard alongside the blueberries, but that may be for the next generation to use the lessons we learn from this beginning.
The ultimate plan is to start with this and eventually establish a store that will not only have a upick operation but also sell our meat (lamb, chicken, pork). I don't plan to raise produce for sale to the public.
Does this sound like a plan that makes sense, assuming we have the patience to let it unfold as the products mature? Are there any other farm-raised upick products that might make sense to phase into this plan in north central Ohio?
 
steward
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I think pumpkins are the perfect crop for a U-Pick.

When momma takes the 3 rug rats to the supermarket before Halloween, she ends up buying a pumpkin.
When she takes them to U-Pick, she ends up buying 3 pumpkins.

Halloween-Thanksgiving is also the season when people 'decorate' the dining room:
Be sure to have ornamental gourds and corn available for purchase.
People $pend a lot on those non edibles at the supermarkets.

Strawberries can be a problem...too many plants get walked on in my experience.

 
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this will be an interesting thread to watch i think:)
 
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Wow, sounds like your PYO will be quite an exciting place. Have always loved the idea of doing a PYO with produce growing on a raised bump of land on either side of the path that way people in wheelchairs can grab what they like. I can't remember what book we read this in but it looked brilliant and was kind of like being in a maze with food everywhere. I noticed that when referring to farmers you continually used "he" and "his" as the pronoun. Women have been farming since the beginning, and despite whether or not they get much notice for it please don't use language that cancels out 50% of the population from such an important job.
 
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