A few years ago, Linda Van Appledoorn started Take Your Pick Flower Farm (takeyourpickflowers.com) in upstate New York to earn some extra income. Her flower patch is only 1/2 acre of annuals and perennial flowers, but a steady stream of customers drop by from mid-May thru October to pick their own bouquets of daisies, snapdragons or zinnias. In addition to U-Pick, Linda offers a once-a-week bucket of in-season flowers delivered to local homes and offices and flower bouquets for special occasions like birthdays, graduation, anniversaries and weddings.
Many growers like Linda have chosen U-Pick to reduce labor costs, packing and shipping costs and increase profits. U-Pick can work for many crops ranging from flowers to herbs to vegetables to fruits and Christmas trees. Here’s what you’ll need to succeed with a U-Pick operation:
- Many customers work during the week, and visit a U-Pick on Saturday or Sunday. Are you prepared to work weekends during your harvest season?
- Customers may not bring their own containers, so be sure to have a supply on hand.
- Make your U-Pick accessible and safe for kids and handicapped folks. For example, many fruit growers plant dwarf fruit trees so customers can pick without a ladder.
- Provide parking and easy access to your growing area. To control muddy areas, spread sawdust or wood chips.
- Be sure to provide access to drinking water for hot summer days. A basic Igloo water cooler and cups or a drinking water faucet will be fine in most instances. It’s also a good idea to spot a porta-potti in a convenient location.
- Talk to your insurance company about the liability coverage necessary for a U-Pick.
- Keep pets out of growing areas, as their waste can cause E-coli bacteria problems.
- A clean, tidy operation can keep customers coming back year after year.
- Make sure your U-Pick is easy to find, with directions and signs.
- Provide pre-picked crops for those who don’t want to pick their own.
Half of your customers will hear about you from others, so keep your customers satisfied!
Half of all U-Pick customers are there to avoid the chemicals and pesticides often found in crops, so tell them what you’ve done to provide safe, healthy crops.
Most areas now have organized tours of local growers, so make sure you are on the map in your area. Check with your local county extension agent to find out what’s available, and also sign up for print and online farm and PYO directories.
A series of road signs, starting at the nearest major road, can guide customers to your U-Pick.
Set up a web site to let people know about your U-Pick, and regularly update harvest times, hours and directions.
Sell your crop at the local farmer’s market and let everyone know they can also u-pick.
Run a small ad in your local paper to let customers know when your harvest season opens and your hours. Be sure to include a phone number for those with questions.
Use an answering machine or a voicemail service to record your message, including seasonal schedule, hours and directions.
Invite local teachers to bring their classes out to your farm for a tour.
U-Pick is a proven way to keep more profits in your pocket, as there are no middlemen and u-pick customers tend to spend more than those at a farmer’s market. The tradeoff is that you’ll spend more time helping customers during the picking season. Most who choose to market their crops with a u-pick feel the tradeoff is worthwhile.