How to U-pick

With a bumper crop of apples this year, I believe it is a good time to remind readers/eaters that there is an etiquette to U-pick. Whether you are paying to enter a pumpkin patch or just heading over to the neighbor’s backyard to help unload their apple tree, there are a few things you need to understand. Here’s some friendly advice to make your U-pick experience safe and fun for all.

  • Be respectful to the owner. Remember that they are opening their property to you. Be clear about which trees or rows you can harvest and how to safely access these locations without disrupting other farm, orchard, or garden operations.
  • Be responsible for yourself and your fellow pickers. Most places, like your neighbor’s, probably won’t require a signature on a release form that clarifies liability and responsibilities for each party. But when you cross onto property with “intent to pick,” you are entering into an implied contract with roles and responsibilities for both parties. There are risks and hazards to venturing onto a working farm, orchard, or garden. You need to be aware of stray garden implements, uneven ground, and animal pens with gates and fences. If you or your dependents should get hurt while visiting an orchard or farm during a U-pick session, you are responsible for your safety and medical care. If you break or damage something such as picking equipment on the property, it is best to fess up to the accident and offer to pay to repair or replace it.
  • Offer a fair price or trade for the privilege of accessing the property and picking fruit. This does not have to be a cash transaction. You can pick extra fruit for processing by the owner or others. Or offer to return later to help with pruning or weeding. I try to give the U-pick owner a jar of the applesauce or salsa made with their fruit after a picking session. This might even make it more likely that they will invite you back the next time there is fruit.
  • Bring the kids – not the dog.
  • Recognize the hard work and sustained effort that made this U-pick possible. Farmers and ranchers are proud of their operations. Show some interest and you may learn a thing or two. Ask how they manage their orchard. How do they control for pests? Have them show you which varieties they recommend for your menu plan – pies, drying, sauce, jam – and how to select the ripeness that suits your timing.
  • Adjust your expectations to match the qualities of tree-ripened fruit. This is not the fruit you would find in a grocery store that is processed and packaged. Tree-ripened fruit will have flaws and imperfect shapes. Some might have worms, bird pecks, or hail damage. I can pretty much guarantee it won’t be perfect. But it will be some of the freshest and tastiest fruit that you and your family have ever tried. And you can select which ones you take home – so it is your choice on the size, ripeness, and quality, rather than getting a mixed bag selected by Mr. Kroger.
  • You will be outside in the elements and potentially exposed to sun, wind, rain, ants, bugs, uneven ground, scratchy plants, and dust. Dress accordingly with sturdy shoes, long pants, long-sleeved shirt, and sun hat.
  • Bring your own boxes, gathering baskets, and containers to carry your haul.
  • Be gentle with the trees and plants. Ask the owner/manager to demonstrate how to pick and handle the fruit. Being able to remove the fruit with a gentle twist shows it is ripe and ready to eat – no yanking necessary. Avoid branch-breaking.
  • Taste! Encourage the kids to taste right off the tree (if there hasn’t been any recent spraying or other treatment). This is a chance for them to learn where their food comes from.
  • Be grateful – have some fun – try something new. Ever wonder what a “Winter Banana” tastes like? Now is your chance to try one.

Celebrate the community bounty by sharing a pie or pumpkin art or … with your friends and neighbors. U-pick!

Carolyn Dunmire grows, cooks, and writes in Cahone, Colo.

From Carolyn Dunmire.