Pick your own produce: Deal or no deal?

Heidi McIndoo, MS, RD, LDN


There seems to be this prevailing idea that pick-your-own fruit and vegetable farms are far less expensive than the grocery store. After all, you’re doing all the work, cutting out the middle man, it should be less, right? But, is it really?

Before you start thinking I’m going to pooh-pooh U-Pick places, never fear. I adore bringing my kids to pick-your-own farms. We gather apples, raspberries, strawberries and more. It’s a wonderful way to teach kids about where our food comes from and have some outdoor fun.

That being said, U-pick locations may or may not be a bargain and it’s not always easy to calculate. Think about it. At the grocery store, you buy apples by the pound, but apple orchards usually sell by the peck or 1/2 bushel. On the other hand, berries are usually paid for by the pound at the farm, but in the grocery store they’re sold in those plastic boxes at a set price.

Let’s do away with all of the mystery. A peck of apples is about 10 pounds and a half bushel is just over 20 pounds. Those small plastic raspberry/blueberry boxes weigh about six ounces while the bigger rectangle ones containing strawberries are one pound.

At my local grocery, apples cost between 99 cents and $1.99 per pound depending on store (and sale). My favorite orchard sells a peck for $16 and a little less than a half bushel for $24. That works out to be $1.60 and $1.20, respectively per pound. So, depending on the store/sale to which I’m comparing, the orchard price may or may not be a bargain.

There seems to be this prevailing idea that pick-your-own fruit and vegetable farms are far less expensive than the grocery store. After all, you're doing all the work, cutting out the middle man, it should be less, right? But, is it really?

However, apple picking is an event. The entire family is together for a couple of hours. We enjoy cider and freshly made, warm, cider doughnuts. To me, that’s worth the possibility that I may be paying a bit more for my apples. That extra 20 cents or so per pound I’m paying works out to be about $4 total, a pretty good price for a few hours of family fun.

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Now, let’s look at raspberries. Those plastic clamshells (the name for those plastic berry boxes) sell at my store for $4.99 each, with a sale price of $2.99 to $3.99. These are six-ounce packages, so I’m paying anywhere from $8 to $13 per pound, ouch! My local berry farm sells pick-your-own raspberries for $5.99 per pound, which sounds expensive until you do the math.

One problem, and I use the term “problem” lightly, with U-pick places is that I just can’t stop picking. Even as my bags and baskets are overflowing with fruit, if I see a plump berry or shiny apple, I can’t resist plucking it. So what’s a person to do with 40 pounds of apples or five pounds of berries? Get in the kitchen, of course.

Favorite apple recipes

I’d never hear the end of it if I didn’t make my family’s favorite apple crisp or homemade applesauce. While for eating I prefer a crisp apple, I find MacIntosh are best for cooking and so I make sure at least half of my apples are Macs. Other favorites include apple butter, which can be canned and given as gifts at the holidays, or apple muffins, which are perfect to freeze and then thaw and heat in microwave for a quick breakfast or snack. To store apples for eating, keep refrigerated and they’ll last several weeks.


Favorite berry recipes

Berries spoil quickly, so if you can’t eat them all in a short period of time, put them to use. My favorite method is to make jams. They’re easy, yummy and ideal for gift-giving. I make this simple two-ingredient recipe every year. Sometimes I strain out half the seeds and sometimes I don’t. It’s up to you. Then, you can use some of the jam to make these easy raspberry bars or use the whole berries for these muffins or this quick cobbler. What’s just as good as these recipes is that you can swap out any kind of berry you have in any of them. The only exception is the jam recipe, because of different pectin content in different berries, you might need to alter that recipe slightly with different berries.

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Berries also freeze well and can then be used in smoothies, baking, cooking and jams. Simply wash the berries and spread them on a dish towel until they are totally dry. Then, spread them on a cookie sheet and freeze. Using this method, they freeze individually instead of in a big lump. That makes measuring them easier when thawing. Once frozen, place the berries in a freezer bag and store for up to three months for peak quality. You can use zippered bags, but a vacuum food sealer is ideal for this process.

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