Pick-your-own-fruit etiquette

Planning to pick your own fruit this summer? Let’s review some pick-your-own-fruit etiquette to keep in mind when you go.

Fruit farming can be a tedious and labor-intensive enterprise. Aside from the environmental unknowns that nature throws into the mix, growing fruit requires tons of care, including planning, planting, pruning, pest and disease management, harvesting, cleaning, processing, marketing and selling. Allowing the public to come and pick the crop adds another layer of complication to an already busy season.

What can customers do to be respectful farm visitors? Here are a few ideas.

Many farms will have their own guidelines, so pay close attention to signs and farm employees’ directions to understand what expectations they have. For example, farms may have a no-dog policy for food safety reasons as well as for the enjoyment of all visitors. It is important to adhere to these and other farm policies when visiting these farm businesses.

Photo by Bonnie Kirn Donahue. Visiting a pick-your-own operation to pick strawberries and other berries is not only a fun, family summer activity but also a great way to support local growers.
Photo by Bonnie Kirn Donahue. Visiting a pick-your-own operation to pick strawberries and other berries is not only a fun, family summer activity but also a great way to support local growers.

When you arrive, there likely will be specific places designated for the public to park. Drive cautiously as farms are active worksites with different rules than the roadway. There may be a gravel surface to park on, or you may be parking in a grassy field with uneven ground.

Once you get to the entrance, look for farm employees who will direct you to the area that is ready to pick. Often there are multiple crops growing, with different purposes and degrees of ripeness, so the farms will have a very specific area where they will allow the public to pick.

Grab as many farm-provided containers as you think you may need. Some establishments will let you bring your own containers, but be sure to check first, and be prepared to weigh them at the farmstand before picking.

Once you start picking, take a close look at each piece of fruit before you pick it. This is more important for high-value fruits, such as peaches, plums and pears, but also applies to other crops including apples, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries.

Does the fruit have a bruise, broken spot or is part of it still green?

Instead of picking and tossing unwanted fruit on the ground around the tree or the berry patch, make sure that you know how the farm wants you to handle this. Rotting fruit can attract unwanted pests and diseases, so there is likely a preferred protocol in place at the farm for damaged or unripe fruit.

While tasting fruit is part of the appeal to u-pick, keep this in moderation. Eating lots of u-pick fruit without paying for it first can certainly have an impact on a farm’s income. Again, each farm may have its own guidelines for how to handle this, but to play it safe, wait to taste until after paying for what you picked. Then, enjoy.

Be sure to dress for the weather. Bring along a hat, bug spray, sunscreen and water to keep hydrated.

Finally, remember to have fun. Picking your own fruit can be a joyful experience to share with people close to you.

Often farms offer more than just fruit, like selling value-added products such as jams and sauces or shortcake biscuits, pies and other baked goods. Some offer entertainment including live bands, corn mazes, tours and even food for lunch.

Each farm has its own unique spin on what they offer. Summer is a wonderful time of year to get out to support our local farmers and their hard work. To find a pick-your-own farm in your area, go to vermontpickyourown.org.

(Bonnie Kirn Donahue is a University of Vermont Extension master gardener and landscape architect from central Vermont.)