How U-Pick Farming Can Be A Sustainable Option For Your Operation

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If the idea of letting strangers onto your farm to harvest your crops without any previous experience or training sounds a little strange — or worse yet, dangerous — then perhaps all you need is a little perspective.

Lisa Schacht of Schacht Farm Market in Winchester, OH.

Lisa Schacht of Schacht Farm Market in Winchester, OH.

Vegetable growing operations across the country have incorporated U-Pick or “pick your own” (PYO) options into their farms for several reasons — supplemental income being paramount — and are reaping the rewards, whileat the same time promoting agricultural awareness to the public.

One operation in particular, Schacht Farm Market in Winchester, OH, has experienced the benefits of the U-Pick trend over the last couple decades, and is using it as a way to remain sustainable and to offer a valuable experience to community members interested in getting their hands dirty and learning where their food comes from.

The Schacht’s U-Pick offerings include strawberries, peas, green beans, tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, and fall greens. Of the 130 acres the Schachts have on their central Ohio farm, 5 are dedicated solely to U-Pick vegetables.

When they initially incorporated U-Pick into their farm in the ‘90s, owners Lisa Schacht and her husband David were motivated by a different set of circumstances than you might associate with the trend now. At the time, most of the Schachts’ crops required hand harvesting, and they were having trouble amassing enough labor to get the job done.

They saw the trend cropping up in other area farms and used that as an opportunity to bring people onto the farm, give them direct access to the produce, and get help with some of the hard work.

“Our intent was, if these people are interested in doing this, and we need the work done, why not offer them the opportunity to do it themselves?” she says.

During the ‘80s, as Schacht explains it, a lot of her U-Pick customers would come to the farm to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables in the fall for the winter. But in the ‘90s the trend evolved to a more “experience-oriented” activity, where people became interested in spending time with their family outdoors in a rural setting.

Of all the crops the Schachts have offered in their U-Pick operation, pumpkins are by far the easiest and safest for the customers to pick.

Of all the crops the Schachts have offered in their U-Pick operation, pumpkins are by far the easiest and safest for the customers to pick.

Choose Crops Carefully
In the beginning, the Schachts offered a limited selection of crops as U-Pick because they realized they were essentially allowing unskilled laborers onto the farm to harvest crops, and they needed to be able to control the situation.

The U-Pick crops had to be easily identifiable at maturity, sturdy, and be able to tolerate a variety of picking styles, so they went with strawberries in the springtime and pumpkins in the fall.

A lot of careful consideration goes into choosing the right U-Pick crops, and Schacht has used both trial and error and common sense to determine what works, and what does not.

Of all the crops she’s offered, she says that pumpkins are by far the easiest and safest for the customers to pick, because at harvest time the plant is already on its decline, and its handles make for easy picking. She also mentions that greens have been a good option for her customers, but require a little more supervision and guidance, which her workers are more than happy to provide.

Alexander is the Associate Editor for American Vegetable Grower magazine and Productores de Hortalizas, both Meister Media Worldwide publications.
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