Picking Your Own Apples Is A Better Deal For The Farmer

Wise Bread has an interesting story about the economics behind a family trip to a “U Pick” apple orchard. Picking your own apples is now called “agritainment,” and it’s a better deal for the orchard than it is for you. On the other hand, the high prices for an “apple picking experience” may be the only thing keeping the apple trees on the land—and not another subdivision.

On a recent visit to Kuipers Family Farm, about an hour from Chicago, I shelled out $6.50 each for my husband, our 3-year-old daughter and myself to enter the orchard and pick 1/4 peck of apples, about 3 pounds. I could have sat on my couch and ordered a 3-pound-bag of apples from Peapod for $2.50.

I’m not saying there aren’t good reasons to visit a U-pick farm. For one thing, these operations have become the only way many apple growers stay on their land, so if you want to support local agriculture and stave off the groundbreaking of yet another subdivision, go for it.

“The other choice is selling (the land) for development,” said Jane Eckert, founder of Eckert AgriMarketing in St. Louis. One hundred thousand acres have already been taken out of apple production in the last 10 years, according to the US Department of Agriculture. With suburbs continually expanding into once-rural areas like the Kuipers’ Maple Park, now abutted by Chicagoland’s western reaches, selling out is often a lot more attractive than selling apples to supermarkets for 31 cents a pound.

The author’s day at the farm ended up costing her about $80. She’s not sure it was worth it, but didn’t seem to have too many negative things to say about the freshly made apple cider doughnuts. Yum.

Who saves money when you pick apples? The grower. [Wise Bread]
(Photo:Gare And Kitty)

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  1. Daemon_of_Waffle says:

    Slate.com did a similar article on these types of apple farms. Here’s the link to the story:

    [www.slate.com]

  2. trixiedelicious says:

    You CAN find orchards that sells apples for less than you’d pay at the supermarket. I went to Apples on Oak in Joliet – also about an hour from downtown Chicago – and paid $1/pound. And there were at least a dozen varieties of apple to choose from.

    No hayrides, petting zoo, or haunted anything. Just delicious apples and one couldn’t-be-nicer family. It’s these so-called attractions that bump the cost of the apples.

  3. parad0x360 says:

    Thats crazy expensive! Around here (NH) last week my girlfriend and I went and we paid $6 for about 10 pounds of Apples.

  4. azntg says:

    Yes, picking and purchasing fresh produce at those u-pick farms are expensive. Our family’s been doing it once or twice a year for the last 15 years, whether in Long Island or Upstate New York.

    But it’s still good to get some fresh air, some fresh fruits and vegetables (really loved the corns I bought last time), help some local farmers stay in business and as long as they don’t mind us having a little family picnic and eating some of the produce prior to checkout, I’d say it’s ~$100 well spent.

  5. ArtDonovansLoveChild. says:

    Yeah, its a little more then buying apples on sales at the store sometimes, or from a farmer cart, but its about the experience. I go with my father and aunt every year out to WV to one. They have their “taste of the orchard” event were you sample some neat apple items and fruit wines. Even do an apple tasting to learn about different types. Then we pick a couple baskets and eat a few right off the trees. Its a good, healthy way to spend a day. Last year I wore a pedometer and ran up 8 miles.

  6. mandarin says:

    I hate it when farmers complain about not being able to stay in business when they’re charging a lot for organic food …

  7. MeOhMy says:

    @mandarin:

    I hate it when farmers complain about not being able to stay in business when they’re charging a lot for organic food …

    That’s a fight for another thread – most of your local farmers probably can’t afford to become certified organic even though they are using similar or sometimes better practices.

  8. Thingamadad says:

    I don’t care for the sweeping generalizations. I pick blueberries on a farm and save gobs of money over the same store-bought berries. The farmer saves money not having to pick the berries himself and he passes the savings to me. I find the worst deal of all at the farmers’ market.

  9. humphrmi says:

    There are a ton of apple picking places around Chicagoland, however I haven’t gone to one with my family in a couple of years. They used to allow you in free and then you paid for what you picked (by the pound). It was a little more expensive than the stores, but as the article said it mostly kept these orchards in business, and nobody seemed to mind.

    These were all-day events and the orchards usually included more activities than just picking; things like games and hayrides and shopping for apple-related products. Overall a very good value.

    Now if they’re charging to get in and they include all those extras, I can see it. Providing activities used to be a way for them to attract visitors, now I imagine they have to recoup their costs. But if it’s just plain picking apples, and you have to pay to get in, that’s a little over the top.

  10. coreyk72 says:

    Paying more for apples you pick yourself is like paying Ticketmaster more for printing your tickets at home instead of having them send it to you via snail mail.

  11. humphrmi says:

    Oh yeah and at every orchard I’ve been to they let you taste test (i.e. eat) each type of apple before you pick a bunch, just to make sure you like them. Another cost to recoup.

  12. mrestko says:

    I didn’t realize people were under the impression they were getting a deal when they go apple picking. I’ve always viewed it as a fun excursion that’s an event in itself–thus the increased cost.

    Enjoying nature for a few hours while “cherry picking” the best apples is much more fun than spending five minutes at the grocery store trying to find the bag with the fewest bad apples.

  13. Arcoone says:

    The Kuiper farm is nearby to me and it is totally a tourist trap. There many other u-pick places around Chicago that don’t charge nearly as much as they do and don’t have the crowds. That place is pretty much entirely an entertainment farm. With apple and pumpkin picking and a corn maze. Also its very expensive comparatively. I’m not sure but I don’t think they even operate as a “real” farm. I don’t think you can take this one example of a very expensive non-typical place and extrapolate that u-pick is always that much of a rip-off.

  14. sonichghog says:

    Or you just pay more for the freshest apples you can get.

    The same can be said for the fish you cook just an hour after cathing it.

  15. @sonichghog: Damn, now I want some fish AND some apples!

  16. stevemis says:

    How about paying $2.50 for a pound of apples like everyone else, and then go talk a walk in the park for free? You got scammed!

  17. bunnymen says:

    How is this good for the orchard (in the long run)? When I worked at one, we were lectured endlessly about how much damage an untrained apple picker can do to a tree, and how it will adversely affect next season’s crop!

  18. beaterbenchley says:

    My boyfriend and I went apple picking last weekend and spent twelve dollars (total) on a half a bushel of apples. That is a shit ton of apples. Having said that, if you the idea of picking your own seems like a scam to you, there is no one holding you back from going to your nearest walmart super center.

  19. vanilla-fro says:

    Isn’t this type of thing also about the experience?
    And really how often are you going to be doing this?

    Sounds fun to me, hell I may find one near me.

  20. woertink says:

    I think is was a little unfair to include the driving costs in the estimate.

  21. Antediluvian says:

    @coreynyc: No, it’s NOTHING like printing tickets at home. Pick your own is MORE WORK for you than going to the store.

    Come on. NO ONE GOES APPLE-PICKING as a cost-savings measure on a “raw dollar” basis.
    As others have said, pick-your-own is an experience, to be shared with friends and family and gets you the freshest fruit. It lets you get to know and support your LOCAL farmer, not the New Zealander who air-freights apples to the Northern Hemisphere.

    It’s also very expensive for the farmer because there are strangers traipsing around his or her land, causing all kinds of damage, and it’s a RETAIL operation, not a wholesale one (like most farms).

    Just enjoy a fall day in an orchard with friends and family.

    Hey, did you guys know it costs more money to go to Disneyland than to stay home. How’s that for a scoop? Wanna post that one, Wise Bread? But you say, you can get a set of mouse ears and a t-shirt? Turns out, they’re actually cheaper if you buy them online than in person, AND you’re not paying an entrance fee.

    This kind of posting, sensationalizing a non-issue, does no one any good. Why did this even get posted?

  22. humphrmi says:

    @bunnymen: The orchards I’ve been to have a cordoned-off area for the public, separate from their wholesale farming operation.

  23. Youthier says:

    I live in an ag heavy area of Michigan and people from the Chicagoland area pour in every weekend from July through October for the “small-town farm experience”. Damn straight the places that are set up for “agratainment” or “agratoursim” are charging more money than the fruit/veggies/pumpkins are worth. As someone said up thread, for some families, this is the way that they get to keep the farms that have been in the family for generations – bilking stupid surburban dwellers out of a few extra bucks.

  24. jwarner132 says:

    @parad0x360:

    Where in NH did you pay that?

  25. bbbici says:

    Regardless of whether it is an ‘experience’ or not, there is no way a farmer should charge above market rate for commodity produce.

    The U-pick farmer will make more profit than traditional distribution methods if people are picking produce for free, even if he prices the produce at a significant discount. If no one picks his produce, he makes no money at all. When you choose to be in the commodity market, you are a slave to market price.

    Why would you want to support a really bad business person, and pay a premium for the privilege?!

    I guess some brainiac people like the ‘experience’ of getting ripped off.

  26. MrEvil says:

    I’m in the wrong type of farming. I need to start renting my place out as a dude farm and charge rich yuppies insane amounts of money to plow my fields for me. They’ll also get to experience a real family farm breakfast of bacon, sausage, eggs, toast, and gravy.

  27. Gopher bond says:

    I support a local farm through a farm subscription. Plus I can go there for berry picking, apple picking, and pumpkin picking weekends they hold.

    I know I can get the produce cheaper at Wal-Mart but I pay for the benefit of having a small family farm in my neighborhood and not more development. Consequently, the more local farms I can keep in my area, the more my house and land will be worth. The farm doesn’t bilk me out of money by charging expensive produce. It’s a win-win situation in which they get my money to keep their farm away from Big Farm Corp. or developers and I get a more expensive piece of property, and some tasty apples.

  28. TechnoDestructo says:

    @Antediluvian:

    To be fair to the New Zealanders…I’ve never had a better apple than those New Zealand Pacific Rose apples.

    (I’ve also never lived in an apple-growing region)

  29. TechnoDestructo says:

    @bbbici:

    Dammit, apples are something that shouldn’t ALL be commoditized…at least not apples that are to be EATEN and not drunk.

    Sigh…does no one care about quality anymore?

  30. Imaginary_Friend says:

    I’m with ya, TechnoDestructo! Those New Zealanders make some damn fine apples. I was turned onto Braeburn, Pink Lady, Gala, Jazz, and Pacific Rose apples all in the last five years because the other apples in my local supermarkets were total crap. I can’t stand the Franken-Food taste of genetically engineered produce (like Monsanto tomatoes), so I have no problem buying apples from New Zealand. Whoever makes the tastiest products wins in my book.

    I recently discovered Honeycrisp apples –straight outta Minnesota, yo– and they are sublime. Safeway’s selling some right now and they’re about the size of grapefruits, I kid you not. Tart, sweet, and crisp. Insanely delicious! Try some.

  31. balthisar says:

    You’ve got to avoid the tourist-trap orchards. I’ve been going to apple orchards in Michigan my entire conscious life, and it’s a fun event. I hate those circus-atmosphere places, though, and it happens to be that those are the expensive ones, after all, they’ve got to recoup their costs.

    Lately in the extrasuburban areas a phenomenon called “cider mills” have popped up. I don’t mean apple orchards with cider mills, but rather just these little buildings that they call cider mills that sell all of the stuff that a real cider mill would sell. Some of them are definitely roadside quality, and some of them are becoming tourist traps (I’m think of you, Goodison, in Rochester).

    Oh, and cider mills (the real ones and the ones I just described) are the last bastion of unpasteurized cider! Can’t find that anymore at any of the markets, even the fancy places. Although, for some reason, it seems like the modern unpasteurized ciders have extra filtering for some reason.

  32. TechnoDestructo says:

    @Imaginary_Friend:

    Still, for what they cost, I probably eat 4 or 5 times as many Washington apples as New Zealand. (I mean, they’re better, but they’re not THAT much better…and they’re not as available)

    Nevermind that it really isn’t environmentally responsible to make a habit of eating exotic food.

  33. zolielo says:

    Read the various “Shipping out the good apples” economic articles for a real bit of economic enlightenment.

    While a few of the “apple” journal articles have been popularized the economic literature on the topic is vast.

    Generally required reading for undergrad econ majors.

  34. pyloff says:

    I’m shocked that these urbanites are offended at the idea of a U-Pick experience. It’s an event that you attend. You get to watch the cider being made. You eat delicious donuts, and maybe take a tractor ride back to where you plan to pick your apples.

    It’s fun, and its local and its land based. It isn’t a commidity like you marketing freaks like to think. Its reality not some spreadsheet, or marketing campaign.

    I can’t believe some of the people who get their hackles raised on a story like this, for proof just look above.

  35. charmaniac says:

    You are paying for the experience of picking apples with your family. $6.00 does not seem that much considering they probably have to buy insurance in the very likely event that someone falls and sues. Also, your children will most likely remember the apple picking thing for the rest of their lives – seems like a no brainer to me.

  36. @bunnymen: “When I worked at one, we were lectured endlessly about how much damage an untrained apple picker can do to a tree, and how it will adversely affect next season’s crop!”

    If you run a U-Pick, you’re not trying to maximize next season’s crop; your profit is being made off the “tourism” or “agritainment” or whatever you want to call it.

    Also, it doesn’t do THAT much damage — unless you make your living on how many apples you get per tree. (As Eyebrows’s grandpa did.) A lot of apple farmers keep part of the orchard traditional and part for amateur picking (maybe just a few trees) — whether that’s a U-Pick or a local festival or visiting apple-picking grandkids.

    @HeyHermano: “ag heavy area of Michigan”

    Dude, where? My grandpa apple-farmed near Paw Paw. :)

    @MrEvil: “I need to start renting my place out as a dude farm and charge rich yuppies insane amounts of money to plow my fields for me. They’ll also get to experience a real family farm breakfast of bacon, sausage, eggs, toast, and gravy.”

    Tourists (“agritourism”) will pay $2,000 a week for the privilege of doing your farm work (and having real farm breakfasts)! But you have to have animals and diversified crops; they’re not interested in your 160 acres of commodity corn. Organic certification helps too. And some kind of class in cob building or weaving or some shit like that.

    @all, as others have noted, there’s a huge difference between a touristy U-Pick and a working farm that lets people pick their own. Not that touristy U-Picks aren’t fun, and plenty of them are worth the price premium. :)

    However, apples are among the most pesticided crop in the United States, so I wouldn’t let your kids eat right of the tree unless you know the farm is certified organic or you know how it’s run (i.e., it’s organic but can’t afford/refuses to get certification).

  37. AdmiralKit says:

    @Balthisar: Tell me about it. When I lived in Ohio, I was 5 minutes from an orchard that would press fresh cider for ~9 months out of the year. Now that I live in Indianapolis, there is one orchard that offers unpasteurized cider within an hour (one-way) drive of my house… and at almost $6/gallon, I have to really be craving that fresh apple cider to be willing to pay that much for a two hour round trip drive.

  38. Consumerist Moderator - ACAMBRAS says:

    Seems like a nice, enjoyable way to teach children that apples come from trees, not from shrinkwrapped styrofoam plates at the supermarket. Many of us (except maybe those who’ve grown up on farms) are really out of the loop about where our food comes from.

  39. Colleen says:

    @mandarin:

    Oof, now that’s a loaded comment. There are reasons for higher prices in organic food – they sure don’t produce as much as conventional non-organic farms.

    And to the rest- if you have local farmers markets you will get much lower prices and the money goes straight to the farmer.

  40. Colleen says:

    @Consumerist Moderator – ACAMBRAS:

    Thats very very true, I work with a farming organization and we take elementary school kids to farms and last week one of them said to me, “I didn’t realize growing food was so involved.” They really don’t realize how important farming is.

  41. scarletvirtue says:

    When I was a kid, my grade school classes and/or the Scouts would go to the Eckert orchards to pick apples. It was about 20 years ago, and I think that we were able to get a 3# bag for about $2 or something.

    It was fun, especially since we’re “city kids” (even if the city was St. Louis) getting out of town and picking our own apples!

    Honestly, I think it was probably more fun than the field trip to the Hostess factory…

  42. @AmerikanInMe: I’m loosely involved with agricultural youth education locally (I sit on a board where it’s one of the things we oversee, although I don’t really do it personally) and we had a student come through our program who THOUGHT YOU HAD TO KILL THE COWS TO GET THE MILK. And was therefore a vegan.

    I never saw a pig in person until I was in college, and then it was at the zoo (and I was like, “holy crap, pigs are huge!”), but that’s like a whole special level of ignorance and having no idea where food comes from. The youth educators tell us while that particular belief was pretty unique, similar ignorance is not unusual.