Pricey Pick-Your-Own Farms

savvyhousekeeping pick your own apple farms
(Image courtesy Esquire)
I have nothing against pick-your-own farms–you know, going to apple orchards, pumpkin patches, berry farms, etc., and picking your own fruit. Every year, my foodie friends go nuts for strawberries they picked themselves or Christmas trees they sawed down with personal hand saws. It seems like a wholesome activity and a great way to teach kids where food comes from.
Personally, however, I would never bother with one of these farms. Why? Pick-your-own farms, and all the related food festivals, are expensive. They are so expensive, in fact, that I would wager they are one of the costliest ways to purchase produce.
As this article in Slate points out, pick-your-own farms are more of a clever financial strategy than anything else. Many farms can’t get the labor it takes to pick their apple crops, so the fruit ends up rotting on the branches. The solution? Have the people come pick the fruit themselves and charge them more than they would pay in the store for it. Or as Slate puts it:

Encourage yuppies and their progeny to come pick your fruit—they’ll pay handsomely for the privilege, buy more than they’d ordinarily consume, and then shell out for all sorts of other value-added products. It’s the best use of child labor since Manchester’s early 19th-century textile mills.

The article also suggests another problem with pick-your-own farms–you tend to buy more than you will use. I would never buy a large flat of apples without using them up in desserts, but most people would not have the time and inclination to use the fruit up before it rots. “Besides,” says Slate, “pick-your-own orchards sell the processed versions right there, in the irresistible form of apple cider and apple-cider donuts.”
So the bottom line: pick-your-own farms are a fun activity, but they are far from frugal. To get cheap local produce, grow your own, trade with neighbors, go to a farmer’s market, or find the grocery store in your area that buys from local farms. Paying to pick rarely pays off.

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6 thoughts on “Pricey Pick-Your-Own Farms”

  1. I know the PYO veggies farms around here are crazy for prices. Really, $1.99/lb for beets, and I have to pull and clean them? C’mon!
    The only PYO we do is strawberries, because we pick and eat at the same time, and a gallon pail is $8, with pick 9 get 10th free. I know, it sounds like a lot of strawberries, but, between jams and jellies, strawberries in syrup, and the necessary strawberries and cream pig out for several days afterwards. *grins*
    Other than that, we hit the roadside stands in the outlying farming community. The organized Farmer’s Markets are jsut as expensive as the grocery stores, but the RS stands are often cheaper, and once we’ve build a relationship with the farmer, we’ve found we get better deals. This year was 50 lb bags of potatoes for $5, if we took the smaller potoatos of the crop. Umm, yeah! LOL!

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  2. Wow that’s a lot of potatoes! Yeah the roadside stands have some great deals too. I guess it’s all about knowing your prices.

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  3. I have been wondering about the whole PYO thing for a while now, as I no longer live in the US and all my PYO memories are of abundant fields and lots and lots of fruit.
    Here in Japan it’s clearly an ‘experience’ and the price, unless you eat a bunch (bring cream and sugar in a cooler bag) is excessive – strawberries are most common, but my impression is that the costs are high for everything, especially when you factor in the free labour the farmer gets. And as Wolfsong mentions, the roadside stands during harvest season are good, as are our local farmers. The biggest problem I encounter is lack of price-tracking information. I really should get better at keeping track of actual prices, because it’s not always easy to remember how much you pay per 100g or kg at your local store vs. a roadside stand.

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