Berries: Sustaining A Customer Relationship At Your Farm

By |

Urbanites in these times have much interest in purchasing locally grown food including berries of all types, and they are very aware of the good news that berry consumption helps promote good health. Coupled with the news about the bodily benefits of getting more outdoor exercise, many folks are ready to find growers that offer U-Pick berry picking opportunities in areas where few such farms may exist.

There are several things a grower contemplating berry farming should consider in order to first attract and then build a repeat, happy U-Pick customer base for the long-term, to sustain a U-Pick business for the entire life of each planting.

Volume Versus Weighing

Beware the nefarious picking bucket volume. For claiming 1 gallon or 8 pints of berries held by your buckets, you need and must know what your picking containers really hold in volume of real world berries. For example, many buckets sold today are designed to hold 4 quarts liquid measure, but will not hold 4 quarts of berries dry measure. This winter is a good time, for example, to purchase something similar in size to berries, such as chick peas, to check your buckets. See if one of your on-hand stock of berry buckets will hold 4 quarts of chick peas. Locate a standard dry measure 1 quart or 1 pint berry till in order to run this test. If your family members do not like to eat chick peas or to use them to make soup or hummus or other food, donate them to your local food bank!

Confusion Over Bucket Size

Most growers get around the confusion of bucket size by simply switching over to a weight system using buckets that may be locally and easily available for picking. For example, if your picking buckets will only hold 3.5 quarts dry measure, figure what that is worth per pound and per ounce, and purchase a berry growers’ electronic weight scale/register. If household electric current is not available at your field check-out stand, use the battery-powered/and or solar-powered feature on many units used by berry growers.

If other berry growers that may be within customer driving range of your berry farm are using a weight system at checkout instead of pricing by dry measure volume, customers who are familiar with the weight system may be confused by your volume system. Confusion can create suspicion and loss of repeat customers who may think or have decided that you are taking unfair advantage of them. Contact your state agriculture and consumer services’ office of weights and measures to calibrate and certify your scales for commerce.

Heaping Up Containers

For the grower’s peace of mind plus your customers’ happiness with the natural human instinct to heap up their berries in each container, the single biggest advantage to the weight system is the absolute fairness of it for both grower and customer! Charge by weight and let them heap! Look at it from your customers’ point of view: Often when picking, they come to a spot just loaded with berries at the very time their containers are about full. It is a long way back to the checkout stand to get more containers, so the only thing to do is put those berries in what they have with them.

For years we struggled with picking buckets by volume and with the heaping of containers, so we charged high prices to help make up for our loss, but it was not the best solution. Also, some pickers are rushed for time and need to stop before their container is full. We had to guess at their volume or take time to measure out, while others waited in line to pay, which is time-consuming and not pleasant for your customers or you.

Smaller Containers

Most U-Pick customers are going to process, freeze, or quickly consume their fresh-picked berries, so container size is not a big deal for them, as long as it is small enough that soft berries are not crushed into soup in the bottom of the container. Supplying customers with dry measure pint containers for raspberries is too expensive for the grower. For customers’ home use of soft fruit such as raspberries and blackberries, your customers are happy to purchase their own smaller size plastic buckets from you that they can wash and re-use each time they come to pick softer berries such as raspberries or blackberries.

Consider this winter stocking up with both 2-quart and the so-called 4-quart picking buckets and a good electronic scale/register and be ready to offer your customers a “fair trade” weight system for all their berries next season. The larger buckets are fine for blueberries and strawberries, the smaller buckets are best for raspberries and blackberries. Let them purchase their own picking containers from you so they can re-use/recycle, and you can save money by not having to give them a picking container. They will pick more fruit, and you will receive more income.

Charlie O'Dell is an Extension Horticulturist Emeritus for commercial strawberry, blueberry, and vegetable production at Crow's Nest Farm in Blacksburg, VA.

Leave a Reply