Title: Pick your own
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Title: Pick your own
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_- Guidelines to Better Family Farming

"PickYour Own"

another marketing option
for Michigan fruit and
vegetable growers

Michigan State University

District Extension Marketing Agent

commonly called pick-your-own or U-
Pick, has increased rapidly in recent
years. More and more fruit and vege-
table growers are finding it a profita-
ble venture. The sizes and kinds of
these operations vary widely because
they must suit the needs of consumers
in a particular area. Most customers of
pick-your-own are middle class blue
and white collar workers or retired
people. The ethnic and social back-
ground of consumers in a given area
influences their desire for home prep-
aration and preservation of foods.
Quantity purchases are more advan-
tageous to both buyer and seller and
are an important factor in the growth
of pick-your-own marketing. Increas-
ing harvesting and marketing costs
make pick-your-own harvesting more
attractive to consumers. At the same
time, producers can sell products below
going retail prices and often net better
returns than when selling through
wholesale channels. As the general lev-
el of food costs increases, buying
directly from the producer becomes
more attractive.
Pick-your-own fills other personal
and family needs as well as saving
money. The trip to harvest fruits or
vegetables can be a pleasant experi-
ence that strengthens family ties. It
also provides a learning experience for
children. Fresh air, sunshine and the
chance to visit with a courteous and
friendly farm family are other pleas-
ures often associated with the pick-

your-own experience. A shady area
with picnic tables where children can
play and customers can relax after
picking produce is an added induce-
ment. A wash-up area and clean toilets
add to the comfort and attractiveness
of the place. The wise pick-your-own
operator sells these values along with
his products. They may be as impor-
tant in making repeat sales as the fruits
or vegetables themselves.
Since family needs now require more
income than many small or medium-

size farms produce, an alternate source
of income is needed. But, expansion of
acreage is often impossible or imprac-
tical due to financing requirements or
availability of suitable land near the
present farm. Pick-your-own can often
provide the needed increase in income
from existing acreage. Total dollars
income received from a given acreage
of a well run pick-your-own crop is
usually well above the amount receiv-
ed from products sold through whole-
sale markets. Savings in harvest labor,

14- 1

packaging and packing costs add fur-
ther to the net income. When family
members can supply much of the need-
ed supervisory help, labor income to
the family can be substantial. Since
many customers have jobs that prevent
them from coming to harvest during
the normal working day, a willingness
to work weekends, early mornings and
late evenings greatly increases the
chance of success.

Most successful pick-your-own oper-
ators advise starting small and growing
into the business. Many growers who
sell a substantial part of their produc-
tion in this manner report it has taken
5 to 15 years to become well establish-
ed. Records of one southwestern Mich-
igan blueberry grower, who sells most
of his production by pick-your-own,
show that about 60 percent of his busi-
ness comes from those who were cus-
tomers the previous season.
Pick-your-own is a business entirely
different from growing a crop. The
experience of working with people, as
well as developing a check-in, check-
out system, managing the parking area,
etc. takes time to establish and fit to
your situation. From experience, the
operator will also learn the best crops
for his farm and those preferred by
consumers in his area. These may dif-
fer for other producers or other areas.
General guidelines are about the best
anyone can offer another person en-
gaged in or contemplating entering

The advantages and disadvantages
of pick-your-own listed below general-
ly apply to most situations. Additions
and deletions can be made to suit
specific situation. Each operation is
unique, depending on the individual
abilities of the operator, the resources
available and the potential customers.
The degree of advantage or disadvan-
tage in an operation is a matter of
judgment. A well-managed operation
with only moderate potential for suc-
cess can be the best alternative for a
producer. On the other hand, a good
location, plentiful customers and other
"plus" factors cannot make a poorly
managed operation a success. The atti-

More return per acre.
Saves harvest labor cost.
Immediate cash from crop.
Saves container costs.
May not need a packing house.
Labor housing not needed.
No sales commissions.
Can improve public image for
Cold storage usually not necessary.
Can make new and lasting friendships.
Yields may be 10 to 15% more when
picked fully ripe.
Less produce is discarded due to

tude of the operator and his family is
the most important ingredient to suc-
cess for pick-your-own.

To make the most of the recreation-
al aspect of pick-your-own, this charac-
teristic should be promoted in adver-
tising. The anticipation of a pleasant
experience is half the fun of any recre-
ational activity. To avoid disappoint-
ment, the actual harvesting of fruits or
vegetables must live up to the custom-
ers' expectations. Finally, having pleas-
ant memories of the trip to pick their
own produce encourages several visits
during the season or coming back again
next year. Word-of-mouth advertising
is another added dividend from satis-
fied customers. They tell friends and
acquaintances of the high quality pro-
duce, pleasant surroundings and con-
genial people at your farm. Hav-
ing neat, clean fields and orchards
with high-quality products along with
prompt, courteous check-in and check-
out service by well-trained personnel
are keys to success.

State parks and nearby private or
public resort areas have a potential for
the pick-your-own market. Some vaca-
tioning families like to harvest a supply
of farm fresh produce to take home for
themselves and for friends. After a
pleasant experience, this could become
a planned part of future vacation trips.
It is also an educational experience for
the entire family. Advertising in news-

Liability for accidents.
May not sell all of crop.
Must work on weekends.
Alternate market outlets needed.
Parking area a necessity.
Controlled entrance and exit needed.
Must deal with all kinds of individuals.
Rainy weather may reduce customers.
Must have flair for promotion.
Needs ability to work with people.

papers and on bulletin boards in resort
areas helps attract this kind of busi-
ness. A friendly relationship with desk
clerks and managers at motels and
campgrounds is helpful. It can encour-
age them to promote your pick-your-
own operation as one of their attrac-
tions for the area.

There is no simple method of evalu-
ating a location for a pick-your-own
market. But experts in this business
generally agree that several location
factors are important. Some of these
are the following. Best opportunities
usually exist near population centers.
Other favorable locations include rural
areas intermixed with towns and rural
areas where there is little or no com-
mercial fruit or vegetable production.
The number of other pick-your-own
operations in your area also should be

In central and southern Illinois, some
growers report that more than one
acre of pick-your-own strawberries per
1,000 population in a 30-mile radius
results in price-cutting and reduced
profits. There is a distinct advantage
in being relatively close usually
within 15 miles to your customers.
There are exceptions to this rule, and
many persons will readily travel twice
this distance. Experience in Wisconsin
with pick-your-own strawberries shows
that a majority of customers live with-
in 10 miles, although some drive 30 to



40 or more miles.* Increased travel
time and the added expense of long
drives will, however, discourage many
persons from visiting a remote farm.
Michigan growers' experience for ap-
ples and blueberries shows most pick-
your-own customers travel less than 20
miles, but some much further.
When customers travel 50 miles or
more, it is usually for once-a-season
harvest of a product for canning, freez-
ing or storage. Those who travel far-
ther usually purchase larger quantities.
Carefully planned advertising is neces-
sary to draw customers from distant
areas. A location on a well improved
road is a necessity. People object to
traveling over poor roads to reach a
pick-your-own operation. The location
should be easy to find. Ideally on a
state or county highway, straight out
from a town, with directions easy to
give and simple to follow. Take time
to inform people in gasoline stations
and other places of the best way to
reach the pick-your-own location.

As commuter transportation im-
proves, nearness to bus or rail stations
could become a factor in your sales
volume. In the past, resort areas have
furnished station wagon service to
meet trains or busses. This might also
be a business-building technique for
pick-your-own. Urban or suburban
dwellers may prefer the more relaxed
traveling by bus or train to the hazard-
ous driving on congested multi-lane
highways. If your customers use public
transportation, provide containers that
not only protect fruits and vegetables
properly, but are also attractive and
convenient to handle. Here is also an
opportunity for an advertising mes-
sage. A reusable container will offer
extra savings to the consumer.

Planning is a very necessary part of
pick-your-own. A first concern is to
grow crops that people want for both
immediate use and home freezing and
A succession of plantings for annual
vegetables to give a longer harvest
period is advantageous. Several vari-
*See selected reference 9.

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S6Ztk ~t

K'2e 7

eties of fruit crops such as strawberries,
cherries, peaches or apples that ripen
over a period of weeks will encourage
repeat sales. It also makes advertising
and promotion programs more effec-
tive by giving people time to plan their
visit to the farm after seeing or hearing
announcements of available produce.
With longer harvest periods it is easier
to have a variety of items for sale at
any given time. Continuity for a spe-
cific item as well as several different
products encourages repeat business
and larger purchases per customer.
Unplanned impulse purchases increase
when more kinds of high quality pro-
duce are available.

Tree-ripe and vine-ripe quality is a
main attraction for pick-your-own. The
final few days of ripening for tree fruits
usually adds 10 to 15 percent in size.
This means a worthwhile increase in
yield and places many individual
apples, peaches or other fruits into
higher value size categories. Flavor is
always best when fruit is tree-ripened.
Freshness is promotable and saleable.
People are much less critical of fruit or
vegetable quality when they harvest
the product. An apple dropped or
found on the ground usually winds up
in the container and is bought at
full price.
Consider field layout that permits
successive crop plantings to be sepa-
rated some distance apart. It is easier
to clean up one planting of a crop, like
snap beans, before moving on to the
next planting. Accidental, premature

harvest is easier to avoid when the
various plantings are not adjacent to
each other.
Many management problems in di-
recting pickers to fields that are ready
for harvest can be avoided by pre-
season planning. Grower experience
will be a great help in arriving at the
best layout for a particular farm. The
size and arrangement of fields as well
as soil types, available irrigation and
other factors will influence many deci-
sions. Since you should plant crops on
soils and sites that are the most pro-
ductive, these very factors will deter-
mine where some crops are grown. As
an example, strawberries need a loamy,
well-drained soil and should be on a
high site to reduce spring frost dam-
age. A planned rotation of crops re-
duces insect and disease injury and will
improve crop quality. Since product
quality is one key to customer satisfac-
tion, only the best production practices
should be used.

Know your costs. Studies of produc-
tion costs for various fruits and vege-
tables have been done by Michigan
State University specialists and Coop-
erative Extension Service agents work-
ing with commercial growers. Similar
studies have also been made in Indiana
and other states. If you do not have
production cost records for individual
crops, these studies may be your best
cost estimate. Check the date of the
studies. Any study more than one year
old should have a correction factor for
cost changes. Inquiries to other grow-
ers of the same crops may give some
idea of production costs. If you know
what it costs to produce a bushel of
snap beans or a 10 pound carton of
tomatoes, it is simple to know what the
lowest selling price should be. Another
factor in the pricing formula is the cur-
rent price levels, both wholesale and
retail. You can't afford to sell pick-
your-own below wholesale. If you price
above the retail levels for your area,
you are not likely to move much vol-
ume. A point between these two fig-
ures is usually the price where you can
move volume and also show a favor-
able return. Some saving over compet-
ing retail prices is usually needed to
encourage people to pick their own.


Stress freshness and quality rather
than low price. You must, however, be
in line with other nearby pick-your-
own prices where quality, convenience
and customer service are comparable.
Sometimes a competing producer does
price produce below going pick-your-
own levels. It will cut into the volume
you move if quality and other factors
are comparable. Some growers price
their products low because they do not
include all labor costs. In a friendly
manner, talk over with any low-price
sellers production and marketing costs
that may justify a higher price. Each
party must be free to decide his own
pricing policy but should be aware of
all factors involved. Avoid a price war,
if at all possible. All parties will be
hurt if produce is sold at or below cost
of producing plus a reasonable market-
ing margin.
Tradition or past practice is some-
times the basis for establishing prices.
Since costs and production practices
change continually, it is well to regu-
larly update the basis for your prices.
Think price changes through carefully,
before making them. Consumers tend
not to trust prices that vary widely up
and down. Most pick-your-own opera-
tors keep a given price for an entire
season regardless of whether wholesale
prices go up or down. Any price adjust-
ment should be made at the start of
the harvest season based on conditions
at that time.

The best pricing policy will maxi-
mize returns for the products produced
over an extended period of time. If you
are to accomplish this objective, your
customers must be satisfied that your
prices are fair. They should be a little
lower than non pick-your-own sources
of supply for comparable quality. You
need repeat sales; for most areas well
over half the pick-your-own customers
have been there previously. Cleanup
specials for a last picking of strawber-
ries, snap beans, pickles, etc., where
produce is scattered and quality may
not be the best, sometimes justifies a
reduced price. Such a case should tend
to be a promotional event and not alter
regular pricing policies. The area in
which your farm is located, the kind

and quality of your crops as well as
cost of production, tradition and pric-
ing policies of others in the area are all
factors to consider in making pricing

The decision to sell produce by
weight or by measure merits serious
thought. Advantages of each method
can be readily seen. The problem
of customers overfilling containers is
solved when produce is sold by weight.
A weight basis of sale is fair for both
buyer and seller. Various size contain-
ers whose volume is difficult to esti-
mate can be used with assurance of a
fair deal when selling by weight. Most
producers who sell in this manner
weigh containers and mark the empty
weight on them with a marking pencil
or crayon as the customer checks in
for harvesting. At check-out time, the
weight of the container is deducted
from the total weight to give the
amount of produce to be paid for.
When sales are made by weight, scales
must be approved by the Weights and
Standards Division of your state gov-
ernment. In Michigan it is the Weights
and Standards Division of the Michi-
gan Department of Agriculture. An
inspector from the proper governmen-
tal agency should check the scales for
accuracy and affix his seal of approval
before they are used for selling.
Sales by volume are simpler since no
scales are needed. Usually containers
for harvesting or measuring purposes

are bushel, half bushel, peck, quart,
etc. Some instructions are usually given
about how full containers should be.
These may be in a printed handout
sheet, or given orally when people
check in. An inspection of harvested
produce in containers to determine
how well containers are filled, varieties
harvested and amount of purchase is
ordinarily made at check-out time. Pro-
duce is then paid for at the rate per
bushel or other unit.

A management concern of any busi-
ness, serving the general public is safe-
ty. Many objects on a farm can be haz-
ardous to people not accustomed to the
surroundings. Hoes, rakes and other
hand tools are not safe toys for
children. Adults can also trip over
tools, lumber, fencing materials and
other objects laying on the ground.
Store these tools away from public
areas. Have a well-defined area for
guests and their children to use. Defi-
nite routes along well-cared-for paths
and roads should be plainly marked to
prevent persons from straying into
areas where not needed.
If guides take groups to a harvest
area, there is less risk of people going
to the wrong places. Instructions from
supervisors or guides on use of ladders
also promotes safety. Steep banks, deep
ponds, areas where poison ivy may be
growing and other hazards should be
pointed out to pick-your-own custom-
ers. The owner is liable for almost any
personal injury on his property. It is
better to avoid the problem than to
determine in court what damages, if
any, you pay. Fencing harvest fields,
or fencing off areas where possible
injuries could occur, will reduce this
risk. Fencing also helps guide people
to where they should be. Adequate
supervision answers many questions
and avoids uncertainties on the part of
those harvesting produce for the first
time at your farm.
Sometimes the guide is also the
supervisor and makes frequent trips to
and from the check-in point to bring
new groups to the harvest area. If
separate supervisors stay in the harvest
area, the guide should point the super- I
visor out to each new group and tell
them to ask for any needed assistance.


Supervisors and guides often wear col-
orful or distinctive hats or jackets so
they can be easily identified.
Ladders are usually considered a
necessity in pick-your-own orchards
that have full size trees. If growers,
however, pick the tops of large trees
before customers are allowed in the
orchard, no ladders are needed. In
some orchards of dwarf or semi-dwarf
trees no ladders are provided. Here
most of the fruit can be picked by per-
sons standing on the ground. This is
much safer for the customer. Any
remaining fruit in tree tops is then
picked by the grower or an employee.
Many pick-your-own operators keep
some ready-harvested produce to sell
to those who do not want to pick their
own or who want to buy more than
they have picked. Some orchardists
provide sturdy, wide-based step lad-
ders no more than six feet tall. They
then pick fruit left in tops of larger
trees with regular harvest crews.
Either providing no ladders or short,
wide based ladders greatly reduces the
chances of injury. Inexperienced per-
sons working on tall ladders are much
more likely to fall than professional
fruit harvest crew members. In no
instance should pickers be allowed to
climb trees or stand on limbs when
harvesting fruit. Excessive tree dam-
age and danger of falls are two very
good reasons not to permit this prac-
tice. Good orchard supervision and
tactful suggestions will usually elimi-
nate much of the picker tree damage
and risk of falls from ladders.

You should train all personnel who
work in the pick-your-own operation,
whether family members or hired help.
All employees should have some knowl-
edge about the crops grown, areas
being harvested, their location, etc.
Field supervisors need to be con-
genial and helpful. They should show
people how to harvest to avoid dam-
age to trees, vines or plants. Pickers
usually appreciate instruction as to
proper stage of maturity, how to han-
dle produce without bruising and help-
ful hints on storage or preparation.
Check-in and check-out personnel
should be well-informed on usage of
produce. They can give out brochures

and printed recipe folders and suggest
sources of information such as the
Cooperative Extension Service. Per-
sonnel who may not know the answer
to a specific question should direct the
customer to another person who has
the information or knows where to
find the answer. Good relations with
customers are developed by friendly,
well-informed personnel. A training
program is the only sure way to have
this kind of employees.
Employees can be trained individ-
ually or in groups by the owner or
manager. In larger operations the
group or class method will take
less of the owner's or manager's
time from other duties. All em-
ployees can usually benefit from
training. For the new employee it is
instruction in the normal operation
procedures. Included pricing policies,
cleanup specials, container sales, crops
grown and field locations, product uses,
how to handle and store fruit and
vegetables, how to harvest, safe ladder
use and other needed information.
How to greet people in a pleasant
manner and the need to be congenial

and helpful are also important items
to include in employee training.
Each employee should have a defi-
nite area of responsibility and be pro-
vided with a full understanding of his
tasks. Good general training will per-
mit changing personnel from one job
to another as the need arises with a
minimum of retraining. Regular em-
ployees benefit from occasional re-
fresher sessions to update them on
changes in the operation and to keep
them in touch with management phi-

Several methods of checking in and
checking out are in use, and almost
every pick-your-own operation has
some variation. One very successful
system utilizes a building through
which all must pass to and from the
fields. Fencing prevents other entry
and exit, and no cars are permitted in
the picking area. This system works
best with relatively compact or con-
centrated planting areas. Cars are then
kept in one central parking area, which
may be safer. It also avoids checking
trunks and back seats for extra pro-
duce. Dust created by traffic on field
roads can be annoying when cars are
driven to picking areas. The check-out
area can also be a place to sell ready-
harvested produce, snack foods, cold
drinks and other items. In some cases
these add up to a sizable increase
in sales.
Moveable tables or stands with a
canopy or roof are often used for check-
ing pickers in and out. Sometimes two
are used, one for checking in and
another for checking out. This usually
speeds up the process and facilitates


handling of larger crowds. Even two
or more stations for both in or out can
give faster service at busy times.
Cash registers help in keeping rec-
ords of sales in a systematic manner.
Accurate records of sales are important
for determining which crops or what
method of sales are most profitable.
Sales tax reporting is much easier and
less likely to be suspect by State De-
partment of Treasury collectors when
good records are kept. In Michigan,
pick-your-own and other farm produce
retail sales that amount to more than
$50 a month are subject to the State
sales tax. The nearest County Treas-
urer's or Michigan Treasury Depart-
ment office can tell you who and
where to contact for tax reporting.
Here you can receive up-to-date in-
structions on all aspects of State
sales tax collection and reporting as
well as retail sales license and other

Many different containers are in use
at pick-your-own operations. For crops
like cherries, blueberries, raspberries
or blackberries, the grower may find it
practical to furnish picking pails of not
more than four-quart capacity. The
smaller-size picking container avoids
bruising of fruit, because there is less
weight on fruit in the bottom of the
pail. The fruit can be transferred to
boxes, lugs, trays or other containers
for taking home. For many crops like
snap beans, tomatoes, apples, grapes,
etc., customers often pick directly into
the same containers they take home.
In any case, customers who bring their
own containers save money. And the
grower saves time and trouble if he
does not have to stock containers.
Many growers sell containers to per-
sons who do not have any, or who
want more produce than their own



I .


containers will hold. One strawberry
grower developed a fold-together, cor-
rugated cardboard tray that is 9 x 12
inches finished size and 3 inches deep.
He furnishes these at no extra charge
to all who pick their own. The contain-
er holds about three quarts of fruit and
costs the grower less than any other
available container. No carrier is nec-
essary and people pick directly into
the tray. There are many similar inno-
vations. Some growers who sell pick-
your-own produce, sell used containers
to customers at or near cost. These
must be clean and must not have been
used for meat, fish, poultry or dairy
products. Alert growers can often re-
duce costs and price their produce
more attractively by giving the con-
sumer a good deal on the container.

Moving customers and their pro-
duce to and from fields or orchards
can be a problem, especially when
fields or orchards are scattered over a
considerable distance. The least costly
and least troublesome system is where
people walk to and from fields. This
system is practical where a central
parking lot is near the fields. Guides
can lead groups to and from pick-
ing areas.
Hand carts made with bicycle wheels
are one way to haul produce from field
to parking lot. Some growers run wag-
ons, drawn by tractors for this purpose.
Pickers, as well as produce, are often
moved by tractor-drawn wagons. This
is an added expense. Since accidents
occur, additional liability risk is involv-
ed. Before you decide whether to
transport pickers to and from picking

rr71 m


areas, or let them walk, discuss the
alternatives with other pick-your-own
If you are considering letting people
drive cars to the picking area, think
through carefully the advantages and
disadvantages. Driving to harvest areas
may save time, and it provides trans-
portation for both people and produce.
A central parking area may not be
needed or it may be quite small. On
the other hand, roads will have to be
well marked with signs to direct peo-
ple to harvest area. During rainy peri-
ods, cars can get stuck in fields or
orchards. People sometimes drive over
fields or areas where they should not
go. Crops can be damaged by cars not
following roadways closely. You may
become liable for injury or property
damage occurring on your property. It
is difficult to supervise parking so cars
won't block roadways. There should
not be a back road out of the harvest
area to tempt some to leave without
paying for produce. It may be neces-
sary to inspect back seats and car
trunks when pickers check out.

Once a customer comes to a farm to
pick one produce item, he or she is
more likely to return for other items.
We all tend to be creatures of habit.
It is easier to go where we are familiar
with the road, the parking arrangement
and the check-in, check-out procedure.
If you produce a number of different
crops, your customer is likely to buy
some of several that are available at
that time. A succession of plantings of
the same crop gives a longer harvest
season. It also often induces a pick-
your-own customer to return for more
of the same item later. A prime objec-
tive of having a variety of items avail-
able over most of the growing season
is to increase the dollar sales for each
visit to the farm. When customers buy
more at one time, the grower's operat-
ing overhead expenses are less per dol-
lar of sales. Car parking, check-in
check-out, explaining where and how
to pick and all other services are less
when fewer pickers are needed to sell a
given volume of produce. Anything you
can do to sell more to each pick-your-
own customer will increase net returns
from this method of produce sales.

Parking is a necessary part of the
facilities for any pick-your-own opera-
tion. In most situations it is illegal to
allow cars to park along public roads.
A parking area is necessary and should
be convenient to the picking area. If
harvest sites are scattered, a separate
parking area at each site may be the
most practical solution. This decentral-
izes the operation and results in less
control of traffic and more difficult
check-in and check-out procedures. A
central parking lot is easier to main-
tain, generally safer and easier to man-
age when several dozen or several hun-
dred cars arrive on a busy day.
A sod or gravel surface on parking
lots is usually preferred. If a lot has
high usage over a long season, asphalt
surfacing is advisable. In any case,
good drainage is a must. It prevents
muddy feet, stuck cars and other prob-
lems. Customers will not return if park-
ing is difficult, dangerous or inconven-
ient. A parking lot attendant at busy
times is good business. This person can
maintain orderly parking and prevent
cars from blocking driveways or taking
more space than needed. It is good if
cars can leave the parking area by driv-
ing forward rather than backing out of
parking spaces. If parking spaces are
marked off, a width of 10 feet is need-
ed. Parking spaces need a 20 foot
length. The driveway width between
rows of cars should be at least 25 feet.
These measurements can help you cal-
culate the parking capacity of any
given area. Crowding more cars into
an area than is convenient or safe is a
common mistake. You can avoid it by
good planning.

Roadways must be maintained in
smooth and reasonably dust-free con-
dition. A speed limit of 10 to 15 miles
per hour will help avoid excessive road
wear. A prominent speed limit sign at
the entrance and another at parking
areas will usually be enough. The park-
ing lot attendant should not hesitate to
remind speeders of the posted limit.
Roads that have more than occasion-
al usage should be graveled. Culverts
over drainage ways are justified to pre-
vent water holes and muddy places
from developing. The roadway will

need shaping with grading equipment
and an occasional going-over to fill
holes and smooth rough spots. Addi-
tional gravel will usually be needed on
roads with this surface every one or
two years. For heavily traveled road-
ways to and from a central parking
area, asphalt surfacing can often be
justified. The entrance, roadway and
parking area are the first impres-
sion pick-your-own customers get when
they arrive, so it is worth extra effort
to make this first impression favorable.

Rest and picnic areas create a more
relaxed atmosphere where older people
and children can wait while Mom and
Dad and older children pick the pro-
duce. Families sometimes bring picnic
lunches to make the trip a recreation
event as well as to buy farm fresh pro-
duce. You can sell pleasant surround-
ings and country atmosphere as well as
fresh produce. A picnic area may have
added attraction in areas near large
cities where industrial developments
make noise, and pollution-free parks
are a rarity.
Wash-up facilities and clean toilets
are a must if you wish to promote a
convenient and comfortable atmos-
phere. Repeat business will be encour-
aged when the pick-your-own experi-
ence has been pleasant. Dirty or sticky
hands from harvesting fruit or vegeta-
bles do not create a pleasing memory.
Washing the face and hands helps
to cool off and refresh the picker
after working up a sweat harvesting

Fences can be both decorative and
functional. Woven wire fences four
feet or more in height will usually keep
people from wandering into other
places. A fence can separate the park-
ing lot from harvest areas. The fence
will also assure check-out of produce
before it is loaded into cars. During
busy times, a positive check of all pro-
duce may be difficult without some
directing of crowds by fencing or other
means. Wood slat snow fences can be
used as a temporary means of direct-
ing people or separating areas. Avoid
barbed wire or other material that can
easily injure children or other people.
Don't allow children to climb on fences.
Besides damaging the fence, they may
be injured. Fence off danger areas,
such as deep ponds, very steep banks
or vertical cliffs. Cattle, horses, hogs or
other livestock can be hazardous for
children or persons not accustomed to
livestock. Dogs can also be effectively
kept away from customers by good

Buildings that are used directly in
the pick-your-own business can vary
from a simple check-out stand to large
impressive structures. An existing barn
may provide shelter from sun and rain,
and space for picking containers, lad-
ders and other supplies. It can also be
an attractive check-in, check-out sta-
tion. Some remodeling and painting
will make most barns more attractive
and thus better serve the needs of this
business. A clean, neat check-out and


supply storage facility usually denotes
a good grower who sells quality pro-
duce. The quality image can be impart-
ed here just as much as in the field or
orchard. Buildings do not have to be
large or fancy, but they should be neat
and well maintained. Expensive look-
ing buildings may impart a high pro-
duce price image to customers.
Movable check-out stands on run-
ners or wheels that can be towed by a
tractor are often used. For strawber-
ries, snap beans, tomatoes or various
other crops, some operators prefer this
concept to the permanent central
check-in, check-out station. If parking
is at the picking area, movable check-
out stands are often preferred. Neat,
attractive, functional buildings that are
adequate for the volume of business are
all that is needed. Money spent beyond
this point on buildings will not be a
good investment.

A certain amount of bad luck a
flat tire to change, locked-in keys or a
stalled engine is likely to occur.
Some help and friendly advice at such
times will usually be greatly appreci-
ated and long remembered. It is good
business to be friendly and helpful. It
helps build the neighborly image that
will go a long way to bring people
back. You don't have to be an expert
mechanic or have a parts supply, but
knowing a reliable garage or service
station that can take care of the more
serious problems is very helpful. Often
a telephone where a woman can call
her husband or favorite service station,
will be the best answer to the problem.

One point on which most pick-your-
own operators generally agree is that
word-of-mouth advertising is the best
and cheapest. When someone tells a
friend about the fine quality produce
they picked themselves and saved
money too-it is effective advertising.
Since this method of advertising does
not reach new areas very effectively
and usually needs supplementing, vari-
ous other methods are often used. Dis-
agreement is common on which is best
or most economical. Crops to be sold
and the area from which customers
come will influence the choice of
Many growers maintain a mailing
list of customers. Notices can then be
sent to customers when crops will be
ready for harvest. Often included in
the starting harvest notice, is a calen-
dar of when later items will be ready.

Printed postal card type handout ma-
terial with name, address and a road
map to the farm to pass along to cus-
tomers is low-cost and helpful. Or you
can mail a late winter or early spring
newsletter about happenings around
the farm and crops planned for the
coming summer and fall harvest. News-
letters tend to create a feeling that the
customer is not only part of the farm
but is the very reason why all the
activity and planning is going on. This
method is likely to be more effective
among people in urban areas who have
little other contact with rural people or
agriculture than for customers who
live in the country.

Newspapers and radio can both be
effective means of advertising. You
should recognize the advantages and
disadvantages of each. A classified
advertisement in a daily or weekly
paper covers a large area, usually at a
relatively low cost. It can alert people
to items approaching maturity, give
directions to the farm and state price
and days or hours open for business.
There is usually a time lag of a few
days for daily newspapers and a week
or more for weekly papers before read-
ers receive the message. A larger block
style advertisement (called display ad)
is more expensive but also more effec-
tive in newspapers.
Radio can draw quick response when
30-second or one-minute spot an-
nouncements are repeated several
times each day for a few days. If rainy
weather has kept pickers away, short
spot radio announcements and a clean-
up price can often solve the problem.
Handbills, like those used for auc-
tion sales, posted at campgrounds, in
restaurants and at filling stations will
attract added business.
It is important to calculate increases
in sales in relation to amount of money
spent on advertising. You can reach a
point where it is not profitable to spend
more to sell more produce. Many busi-
nesses, other than agriculture, allocate
from 5 to 10 percent of gross sales for
advertising and promotion. During the
establishment period for a new busi-
ness or an expansion period a larger
budget can be justified. Look closely
at any promotion or advertising pro-
posals larger than the above guidelines
and be sure it can be justified. Many
successful pick-your-own operations
spend only one or two percent of gross
sales for advertising and promotion.


A form of preselling that has appeal
for some people and in some areas is
the gift certificate. They are usually
bought for Christmas gifts or for birth-
days or other occasions. They have
some promotional value in addition to
selling produce to someone who may
not have previously had the pick-your-
own experience. This item can be pro-
moted and used in off-season and
redeemed by picking your own when
produce is ready to harvest.
When promoting gift certificates,
play up the "farm fresh" theme and
unmatchable flavor as well as better
nutrition from vine or tree-ripe pro-
duce. These attributes for fresh picked
produce are all true. Capitalize on
them in your promotion.
For economy-minded customers,
"cleanup specials" are an inducement
to buy more than otherwise. They pro-
vide extra income that you might not
otherwise get. Avoid overpromotion of
this part of the crop, as it could encour-
age customers to wait for the special.
Some growers feel these specials reduce
regular sales.
In some cases the delay of a few
days in plowing down a field after har-
vest will not permit a second crop on
that land that season. In this instance
a cleanup special would certainly not
be justified. The value of cleanup spe-
cials is often similar to grocery or mer-
chandise specials -largely promotion-
al with very little profit. They bring in
new customers who may buy other
items at that time or return later for
other crops.

A form of low-cost, effective adver-
tising is the printed recipe folder given
to customers. It can contain directions
for preparation, cooking, canning or
freezing various items that are sold.
These may be for only one item or can
include several. A quantity purchase
of the various commodity leaflets that
describe storage, handling and usage
of produce items prepared by Con-
sumer Marketing Agents at Michigan
State University is one way to secure
very excellent low-cost handout mate-
rial. These leaflets cover many of the
fruits and vegetables grown in Michi-
gan and neighboring states. Holders or

racks can be placed at the check-out
station so customers can take the fold-
ers they want, free choice.
To conserve your stock of recipe
folders, display sample copies on a
bulletin board and give individual
copies out on request. On leaflets and
folders, have your name imprinted
along with directions for reaching your
farm. A well written, attractive printed
message will be more effective than a
hard-to-read mimeograph, even though
both have the same information.
You can also use brochures or pam-
phlets to supplement a periodical news-
letter or use in place of a newsletter.
They can describe your farm as to size,
location and history; and you could
include the history of the surrounding
community. Of further interest to cus-
tomers would be the crop varieties you
plant and your cultural practices such
as kind of tillage, fertilizer programs,
irrigation, frost protection, harvest
methods, etc.
Why not add helpful hints such as
how to tell when fruits and vegetables
are at right maturity, weight of a bush-
el of various product items, a few
choice recipes? A separate leaflet of
favorite local recipes could include a
list of your farm-grown products and
their harvest dates.
Tote bags, boxes or other containers
given or sold to customers can be valu-

able advertising pieces. Imprint them
with the name of the farm, crops
grown, average harvest dates and di-
rections to reach the farm. A simple
map, showing major roads and loca-
tions of direction signs can also be
printed on the container. Fruit and
vegetable containers are often used a
second or third time in homes. They
serve as reminders of your pick-your-
own experience. If a friend or neigh-
bor asks where to get various produce
items, you can give them a container
with all the needed information print-
ed on it. For quantity purchases of
1,000 or more bags or boxes, many
manufacturers will print messages at
either no cost or a very nominal extra

A clever way to get pick-your-own
customers to list their names and ad-
dresses, is to ask them to sign up for
free produce. When they come back
for five consecutive years, their names
are entered on a large poster in the
check-out area and they are allowed to
pick a free container of produce. It
may be a half-bushel of peaches, 10
pounds of blueberries, a bushel of
pickles or any other amount or kind of
produce. Well before the produce item
is ready for harvest, send the five-year
club winner a congratulatory letter
notifying him or her of the free pro-
duce. The free produce not only en-
courages people to return from year to
year but helps keep the mailing list
up-to-date. Posting names of the win-
ners in a conspicuous place creates
interest. It is a way to help fulfill the
human need for recognition.

Blossom tours to orchards on the
pick-your-own farm can create good
will and alert consumers to the coming
harvest. U
Give your farm a distinctive name
or trademark and use it on highway
signs. On the forerunner sign, tell cus-
tomers how to reach your farm. Show
distance in tenths of miles. This unit
can be easily measured by the car's
odometer. Do not mention price on
highway signs. Signs at or near the
check-in station are better for showing
prices. Be sure to check with state and


county road commissions on regula-
tions concerning the use of signs along
public roadways.
Have a professional artist letter your
larger signs. On smaller information
and directional signs, stencils or letter
guides are acceptable. Following, in
table form, is color combination infor-
mation, (effects of letter size on dis-
tant signs are readable), rate of trav-
el to comprehend different message
lengths and distance traveled during
the reading of a sign at various speeds.
This information will give you a basis
for designing attractive and effective
signs that will enhance the quality im-
age for your pick-your-own operation.

Numerous tests on legibility of signs
in different colors have been made
from fast-moving vehicles. Color com-
binations are listed below in the order
of their visibility and legibility at a
distance. (For a complete listing of
color combinations and legibility, see
Principles of Color Mixing by J. H.
Pustanoby, McGraw-Hill Book Com-
pany, New York, 1947).
Seldom will anyone use all of the

Most Easily Read
Color Combinations
Black on yellow
Black on orange
Yellow-orange on navy blue
Bottle green on white
Scarlet-red on white
Black on white
Navy blue on white
White on navy blue
Yellow-orange on black
White on black
White on bottle green
White on scarlet-red
White on purple
Purple on white
Navy blue on yellow
Navy blue on orange
Yellow on black
Scarlet-red on yellow
Yellow on navy blue
Purple on yellow

various advertising and promotional
methods listed here. Usually some of
these methods will have more practical
application in a given situation than
others. It is a matter of judgment which
ones to use. The cost-benefit ratio of
the different methods and materials

Visibility, Letter Size and Content of Roadside Market Signs

Distance from which
sign must be visible
to be fully read

Number of words which can
be read by the average motor-
ist traveling at various speeds"*
30 40 50 60

Feet Inches mph mph mph mph
50 13/4 4 2 1 0
100 31/z 8 5 4 3
200 7 15 11 8 6
300 11 22 16 13 10
400 14 30 22 17 14
500 171/2 38 28 22 18
*Letters should be made using lines at least 1/5 as wide as the letter height. For example, letters
11 inches in height should be made with lines about 2-1/4 inches wide.
**This assumes the reader gives full attention to the sign, has normal visual acuity (20:20) and is
able to read and comprehend at the rate of 200 words per minute. Use posted speed limits as a
guide to the speeds at which motorists travel unless more accurate information is available.

Speed Limit Distance from advance
(miles per hour) sign to market*
30 2/10 mile
40 1/4 mile
50 3/10 mile
60 4/10 mile
*Based upon a decision time of 20 seconds plus reaction times and braking distances for a car in
good condition on a dry, paved highway. Reaction time and braking distances obtained from Sports-
manlike Driving, Third Edition, published by the American Automobile Association, Washington, D.C.

should be the guide to their use. Signs
both on roads leading to the farm, at
the entrance and around the farm to
direct people and give instructions are
a most effective way to convey infor-
mation. Signs are the one most use-
ful advertising tool for pick-your-own

The lack of insurance protection can
be a costly mistake for you. Just one
severe accident by a pick-your-own
customer at your farm can wipe out a
lifetime of savings. You cannot afford
to be without liability insurance. You
are liable for almost any injury that
occurs on your property. The posting
of a sign "Not Responsible For Acci-
dents" does not free you from liability.
Helpful preventative measures include
well maintained equipment; short,
sturdy picking ladders; paths and walk-
ways free of holes; marked and well-
lighted steps; and hand rails. Fencing
and guard rails around machinery or
danger areas and keeping spray equip-
ment and materials away from pickers
are other needed safety measures.
Post ground rules regarding ladder
use and riding on wagons or trucks
that haul people or produce to and
from picking areas. Include in the
ground rules, appropriate do's and
don't in a concise easy-to-read form.
Give a printed copy to each person who
comes to pick their own produce. If an
accident occurs as a result of violating
posted rules, the persons involved can-
not claim they were not informed of
the hazard. While this will not neces-
sarily relieve you of responsibility, it
will certainly be a factor in your favor.
It may prevent a damage claim.
Most home or farm liability insur-
ance policies will not cover a pick-
your-own operation, if more than an
occasional sale of produce is made in
this manner. Check with your insur-
ance agent and secure the needed cov-
erage. Be honest and frank with your
insurance agent about the nature of
your pick-your-own business. If he is
uncertain as to the limits of your cov-
erage, ask him to spell this out in your
policy or in a letter of explanation from
the company carrying your insurance.
The premium will likely be consider-
ably higher than for regular farm liabil-
ity insurance.


letter height"

"Rent-A-Tree" is a relatively new
idea in pick-your-own marketing of
fruit. It has been used in Germany
and some other European countries in
the past 10 to 15 years, and is being
tried by growers in several states. A
Michigan grower with two-years' expe-
rience indicates "rent-a-tree" can add
to other pick-your-own or farm market
business. He doubts that it can be jus-
tified as the only farm marketing ven-
ture. The "rent-a-tree" idea could per-
haps, also be used for a row of straw-
berries, tomatoes, pickles or other

In the typical "rent-a-tree" arrange-
ment, the grower rents an apple or
other fruit tree to a family for one sea-
son. The renter is free to visit his tree
in the orchard and use the picnic area
as often as he desires. He and his fam-
ily must adhere strictly to the printed
rules and posted signs. Among other
things, the rules state the hours of the
day and the days of the week the
orchard is open for visiting. Also in-
cluded should be specific areas where
picnicking, hiking and other activities
are permitted and the areas where visi-
tors are not to go. The grower does all
pruning, fertilizing, spraying and oth-
er cultural practices, and provides lad-
ders for harvesting. The renter is noti-
fied when his tree is ready to pick and
harvests all the fruit from his tree. All
the fruit may be picked at one time, or
he may pick the riper fruit first and
then return to pick again as more
matures. An identification card is pro-
vided for each tree renter. This card
bears a number that corresponds with
the number on his tree. The signed
rental contract should state plainly the
rights and privileges of the renter along
with restrictions he must adhere to. It
should also state what the grower will
do regarding tree care, grounds main-
tenance, etc. A clause should be insert-
ed giving the orchard owner the right
to cancel the contract and refund the
rental fee in case the tree renter or his
family does not follow the agreed-to
rules of conduct.

The grower cannot avoid liability for
injuries that occur on his property by
posting signs saying, "not responsible
for injuries". He can, however, limit
activities and areas that are covered in
the rental agreement. This would put
the "rent-a-tree" customer in the posi-
tion of trespassing in restricted areas
and would certainly make a claim for
injuries incurred on unauthorized parts
of the farm less likely to be collectable.
Conditions such as how well areas are
marked and how specific the rental
contract is written all affect grower
liability. It is wise to do everything
possible to avoid any likelihood of an
accident. Good maintenance of road-
ways, fencing of dangerous areas, and
eradication of poison ivy and other poi-
sonous plants can be helpful. A friend-
ly visit with the "rent-a-tree" fam-
ily, pointing out interesting as well as
hazardous features of the farm will go
a long way toward avoiding problems.

Experience shows several factors
which will make the "rent-a-tree" idea
work better. The orchard should be
somewhat secluded so that other fruits
or crops are not likely to be damaged
by inquisitive children of the renter
family. A nearby picnic site and wood-
ed area with hiking trails adds greatly
to the recreational value of renting a
tree. Areas where grass and weeds
grow should be kept neatly mowed
and the place should have a well kept
The grower and his employees must
have the ability to work with people.
Spraying, mowing and other cultural
operations in or near the "rent-a-tree"
part of the farm should be done at
times that will not interfere with visit-
ing hours or on visiting days. This will
require planning and perhaps some
adjusting of work schedules. A sizable
farm with interesting scenes and well
maintained and marked roads to drive
through to reach the rental tree adds
much to the fun of a farm visit.
Someone must be available all dur-
ing the growing and harvesting season
to check tree renters in and out. This
protects both parties to the agreement
from unauthorized visitors.

Anyone who rents a fruit tree, be-
comes in effect, part of the farming
operation. The pride of being a grower
and possessing a bit of the countryside
is attractive to many. This aspect of
the agreement is often the part most
highly valued by the renter. The fruit
produced then becomes an added
bonus. It should be plainly stated in
the rental contract that no specific
amount or quality of fruit is guaran-
teed. Hail, freezes, wind storms and
excessive rain or drought are risks
inherent in farming and are therefore
assumed by the tree renter.
The tree rental fee is sometimes cal-
culated using the expected production
of the tree when sold at the going
retail price. In this way the grower
sells the farm privilege as part of the
price for tree rental. Another way of
arriving at a rental fee for a fruit tree
is to take the expected production at
the regular pick-your-own price, then
add a farm privilege factor. In this
way the renter of a small tree or one
of a lower value variety would pay the
same for the farm privilege as the
renter of a tree with more or higher
value fruit. It would be wise to move
slowly into "rent-a-tree" so manage-
ment problems can be fully assessed
and policies developed to meet the
various situations before or as they
arise. Since the recreational value of
renting a tree is perhaps the biggest
consideration, the farm privilege can
be, and sometimes is, sold separately,
on a yearly basis. It then is used much
as the membership in other recreation-
al facilities such as a country club or
yacht club.
Nearness to home will be a distinct
advantage from a cost and travel time
standpoint for the "rent-a-tree" cus-
tomer. Areas remote from most poten-
tial customers will likely have less suc-
cess. An exception would be a resort
area where families and retired people
own second homes and spend summer
months. In this case, "rent-a-tree" could
fill a recreational need and would be
an added attraction for the area. Many
untried possibilities for variations of
the "rent-a-tree" concept will perhaps
develop to combine the recreation
business with fruit marketing in future


This concept usually involves a plot
of 500 to 2,000 square feet in size
rented without any added services.
Under these conditions the fee is usu-
ally quite low -often only $5 to $15
per year. Often these projects are city
or community sponsored.
A commercial producer may also
rent plots, including basic land prep-
aration, basic fertilizer application,
some seasonal cultivation and irriga-
tion as needed. For these services, the
charge is more than for land only. This
arrangement, however, be more eco-
nomical for the renter than doing
these things for himself. The landlord
may also make some added income
from doing these services at one time
on a volume basis for all his clients.
Row spacings, in this instance, should
be uniform and fit regular farm culti-
vator widths. Tall growing crops like
corn and vine crops, such as cucum-
bers or squash, should use the same

rows in each plot so the cultivator can
be used in low-growing or bush type
plants longer during the growing
A written contract with rent-a-
garden customers is a must to clarify
rights and duties of both parties. A
waterproof label in the garden to
match a card carried by the renter can
provide a means of checking persons
in and out of the garden area. This
also provides the necessary garden
identification and helps avoid mis-
understandings and hard feelings by
produce being harvested from wrong
plots. Friendly supervision and some
helpful suggestions will go a long way
to avoid problems.
Seeds, plants and other items need-
ed by gardeners can also be sold.
These, as well as pick-your-own pro-
duce from other parts of the farm, are
additional sources of income. People
who garden usually do home canning
or freezing. If a fruit and vegetable

retail business is also operated, then
canning and freezing supplies could
create extra sales. Garden and can-
ning supplies may offer a good poten-
tial in some situations and not in oth-
ers. Low sales volume potential due
to other convenient sources of supply
may rule out this venture. In any case,
it is well to move into this phase of
the business cautiously. If a few items
go well, more can be added later.
Rent-a-garden offers savings in food
cost as well as the freshest possible
produce. The satisfaction of "I grew it
myself" as well as a healthful recre-
ation activity are promotable sales
pitches and should be utilized in ad-
vertising. As with rent-a-tree, the sales
potential for rent-a-garden is not fully
known at this time. Rent-a-garden
potential must be carefully evaluated
on individual locations. It may be a
burden rather than an asset if man-
agement is spread too thin or other
factors limit the usefulness of this
marketing idea.


Antle, Glen G., "Pick-Your-Own Market-
ing of Fruits and Vegetables", unnum-
bered pamphlet, Michigan State Uni-
versity, 1969.
Bird, J. J., "A Measure of Pick-Your-
Own", American Fruit Grower, May
1967 pp. 46-47.
Cate, H. A., Agr. Communications Spe-
cialist and J. W. Courter, Small Fruits
Specialist, University of Illinois, "Pick-
Your-Own Catches On", Extension
Service Review, June 1970.

Klingbiel, George C., "Pick-Your-Own
Strawberries, The Ten P's to Profit",
Cooperative Extension Programs folder
A2496, University of Wisconsin, Madi-
son, Wisconsin.
Turner, Herbert E., "Our Experience with
Retail Sales" and "Why We Like Pick-
Your-Own", pp. 93-96, Michigan State
Horticulture Society Annual Report,
"Customers Harvest This Crop", Michi-
gan Farmer, May 15, 1971.

"Doctor Runs Pick-Your-Own Farm", The
Packer, Produce Weekly, March 18,

"Pick-Your-Own Bibliography and Infor-
mation", Extension Marketing, P.O.
Box 231, Waller Hall, New Brunswick,
N.J. 08903.

"Pick-Your-Own Success Takes Planning",
American Vegetable Grower, June 1973,
pp. 22, 24, 49.

This information is for educational purposes only. Reference to commercial products or trade names does not imply discrimination or endorsement by the Cooperative Extension Service.
Cooperative Extension Service Programs are open to all without regard to race, color, creed, or national origin. Issued in furtherance of cooperative extension work in agriculture and home
economics, acts of May 8, and June 30,1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department ofAgriculture. Gordon E. Guyer, Director, Cooperative Extension Service, Michigan State University,
E. Lansing, MI 48824. 2P -10 M -7:78-JP-Price 20 cents.


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