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U-pick - challenges?

 
Rob Read
Posts: 86
Location: Poplar Hill, Ontario (near London) - Zone 6a
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Hi Stefan,

You mentioned that part (or all?) of your orchard is U-pick. Do you have any challenges with this model? The ones I'm thinking of are things like:

- people are not familiar with picking, and pick off lots of spurs accidentally, harming next year's crop
- kids eat excessively while picking, lowering the amount of fruit that's paid for
- other kinds of random abuse to trees from (for instance) school groups coming through
- walking all over herbaceous crops, not realizing they are crops

As I write this, I realize that all of these could be tackled with education to the customers. Is this what you suggest? Anything else?

 
Paul Ewing
Posts: 127
Location: Boyd, Texas
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These are some of what I noted when I looked into it a few years ago. I am in the ultra litigious United States and we are rapidly descending into nannystatism so these may or may not apply to those in other more sane countries.

Are you now a Retail Food Establishment? If so you will have lots of regulations and fees to the Health Department (city, county, and/or state).

Liability insurance for $1-5 million. Don't let them use ladders! This is one reason for the shorter trees. It is almost impossible to pick many of the apples from a standard tree from the ground.

Toilets and hand washings facilities close to the harvest points. These are pretty much a requirement for GAPs and will probably be for all fruit and vegetable harvesting in the near future.
 
Rob Read
Posts: 86
Location: Poplar Hill, Ontario (near London) - Zone 6a
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That's good info Paul. I've been shying away from U-pick, but then was considering how much of a labour-savings it could have in terms of harvesting - hadn't thought about insurance. There's a blueberry place near us that has really grown, and each year they have more and more activities for the kids (extra fees to ride ponies, petting zoo, big sand pile, crooked barn play area, pedal go-carts etc). A trailer decorated like a train to get out to the area you pick in. They also have their entire operation underneath bird netting. They are doing a really excellent job, with a big farm store too, and little mini-festivals to draw more people out to the farm.

More careful consideration before jumping in here. I'll plan to plant as if U-pick is an option, and make the decision closer to when stuff is bearing.
 
Stefan Sobkowiak
permaculture orchardist
Posts: 118
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Rob Read wrote:Hi Stefan,

You mentioned that part (or all?) of your orchard is U-pick. Do you have any challenges with this model? The ones I'm thinking of are things like:

- people are not familiar with picking, and pick off lots of spurs accidentally, harming next year's crop
- kids eat excessively while picking, lowering the amount of fruit that's paid for
- other kinds of random abuse to trees from (for instance) school groups coming through
- walking all over herbaceous crops, not realizing they are crops

As I write this, I realize that all of these could be tackled with education to the customers. Is this what you suggest? Anything else?

Rob your last sentence summarizes it all. EDUCATION. That's why I LOVE Whatley's formula of a membership club. You can limit the number of people, invest the time to educate them, get to know them, 'weed' out the ones who don't get with the program. I don't want a customer for a season, I wan't their life span, their kids life span and their grandkids lifespan. I want customers for life, and more and more I get very faithful members.
You will get some damage but realistically you will damage some yourself when you pick, especially in a hurry.
Kids will be kids, we constrain them too much, let them enjoy the farm experience.
We walk on crops sometimes to.
In the end this format suits me just fine.
 
Ken Peavey
steward
Posts: 2523
Location: FL
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I've done U-pick vegetables before, putting this place together as a U-Pick/Pick Your Own vegetable farm.

You can expect the kids to eat some product, that's what kids do. They can eat up some berries if left alone, but it's not a feeding frenzy. A pound of berries or fruit would be a pretty big kid with a hearty appetite. A few ounces per kid is a small investment for a future customer. If the kids have an enjoyable experience, they'll want to come back every year (with their wallet-carrying parents).
Consider hosting school groups immediately after lunchtime. Before they enter the orchard, take a few minutes to talk about safety (bees, snakes or mosquitos, thorns, climbing and falling, trip hazards) and while you're at it, discuss sanitation and washing of food before consumption. Washing the food is important to clean it of chemicals (EVIL) and bugs. Be sure to place the food washing station near the scale and cash register.

I've had people march through freshly planted lettuce and beans, completely oblivious, stomping on the beds into which I've spent hours prepping. Did I mention my hair loss?
Add stakes and string around the areas that do not require additional stomping. If the string is not enough, make it a few stretches of string. Use twine, rope, mark the area with logs as well. You don't have to go all the way to concertina wire, but a clear demarcation would be a great help. Be sure to mention cow manure. That'll keep them watching where they walk. Kids are small and don't weigh much. Many plants can take a little bit of abuse. Kids can get out of hand, throwing things, running around, tearing up the place. There is a time to bite your tongue and a time to reign them in. Experience on your part will help you determine the difference.

This one little girl asked if she could pick a flower.
"Go right ahead, Darlin' " I replied.
A few moments later she shows me her pretty flower...with all the leaves...and stems...and roots intact. (more hair loss)
I grabbed a cup and some compost and helped her repot the flower so she could transplant it into her own garden at home. She was overjoyed, her parents were all smiles and spent some money on fresh produce.
Some damage will occur from time to time. Finding a way to minimize that damage to acceptable levels will be needed. A 5 minute talk before entering the growing areas can go a long way to this end.

You've spent money to advertise to get them to come. Other farms are spending their money to draw them to their farms. They chose your farm as the place to spend their hard earned money. I'd be bending over backwards to see that they are delighted. I want them to come back and tell all their friends what an awesome place it is. Each time they come back gives me another chance to familiarize them a little bit more about a particular plant or vegetable or safety topic. A few trips to the place and they'll have a good idea of what's going on.

 
Stefan Sobkowiak
permaculture orchardist
Posts: 118
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Ken you've got the right attitude.
 
Rob Read
Posts: 86
Location: Poplar Hill, Ontario (near London) - Zone 6a
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Really great advice Ken and Stefan - be patient with your customers, and get to know a good toupee artist...

 
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