(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.