U-Pick: The Next Best Thing to Growing Your Own

Though Kris and I are growing our own green beans this summer, we don't have nearly enough for her grand plans. “I need more beans,” she told me last week. “I want to do some canning.” I hate green beans, but I agreed to lend a hand. On Friday, we braved the heat to make a trip to Hartnell Farms, where we picked 18 pounds of beans.

 

Many Get Rich Slowly readers have indicated that they lack the time, space, or energy to grow their own food. They like the idea of a garden, but the actual process isn't something they can incorporate into their lifestyles. (Sometimes even container gardens just won't work.)

For many of these folks, U-pick farms are a great alternative. It's easy and fun to pick fresh produce from local growers. It can save you money, too. For example, here are actual prices for local green beans:

  • Grocery store: $1.99/pound
  • Produce stand: $1.79/pound
  • Farmers market: $1.00/pound
  • U-pick: $0.60/pound

U-pick offers other advantages than just price. You're able to connect with the people who grow the food, for example. While we picked beans on Friday, we were assisted by Cameron, the farmer's four-year-old grandson. Barefoot Cameron was happy to tell us all about the place. He also offered us eggplant.

Readers in the Portland area should check out the Tri-County Farm Fresh Produce Guide. Most major metropolitan areas probably offer a similar resource. For general information, check out PickYourOwn.org, a site devoted to helping people find U-pick fruit and vegetable farms. The site features:

Make no mistake: picking your own produce is work — but it's fun work. There's always the farmer's market if you want fresh local produce, but you don't have the time or inclination to pick it yourself. It's usually not a bargain, but it's certainly better quality than the fruit than you'll find in most stores.

Kris and I have been harvesting food together for almost twenty years. In the summer of 1989, when we were first dating, we made a couple trips to pick strawberries and peaches. For the five years we lived in apartments, U-pick was the cheapest way for us to get fresh fruit. Even now when we grow a lot of our own food, we make several U-pick trips each year.

Our Friday trip to pick green beans cost us an hour of our time, 60 cents per pound, and a couple of sore backs. On Saturday, Kris and her sister put up 18 quarts of beans. As she's snacking on the beans this winter, she'll enjoy them all the more because she picked them herself.

 

Farm photo by Jen. Bits and pieces of this article originally appeared in last year's brief guide to the berry patch.

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AlmostFit
AlmostFit
12 years ago

We love to take the kids to u-pick places, particularly for berries. They have a blast, and are seeing first-hand where their food comes from. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon as a family.

No Debt Plan
No Debt Plan
12 years ago

Sounds like a good ‘date’ idea… even though work is involved.

18 quarts, huh? Sheesh! She must reallllly like beans if you won’t eat them.

Erica
Erica
12 years ago

I’d love a post about the canning process. (I have a book on canning, and I’ve done strawberry jam, but veggies make me nervous. Seeing someone else do something inspires me.

…kind of like you inspired me to search for a U-pick place around here. I found out there’s one ten minutes from my house! Sweet.)

Kristen a.k.a. The Frugal Girl
Kristen a.k.a. The Frugal Girl
12 years ago

Oh my goodness…I loathe canned green beans with every inch of my being, but I’m glad that Kris managed to stock up on them cheaply. lol

Deborah
Deborah
12 years ago

I second Erica’s idea – I’d love Kris to write a step-by-step post on canning. I bought a canner last year that I can use as either a pressure cooker canner or a boiling water canner. I have a book, and I’ve made a few (very yummy) forays, but advice from an expert is always the best!

Amy F
Amy F
12 years ago

I bought a half-bushel of green beans at the farmer’s market on Friday for $15 — $1.50/lb — and froze them all. I’ve been canning the bushel of tomatoes I also got –$20 for 50 lbs. There are lots of berry picking places around here, but I don’t know of you-pick veggies. Next year I’m planting more green beans. We do you-pick strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and apples.

Gunnar Tveiten
Gunnar Tveiten
12 years ago

It’s fun, and as you say there are other advantages, the cost-savings are however completely ignorable — as a way to save money, projects like these are completely pointless. 18 quarts you write, that is how much, 20 pounds of actual beans ? Something like that. At $0.60/pound this cost you $12.0, whereas at the farmers market it’d have cost you $20 — So you saved $8. However, it cost you travel, plus one hour of time, times two people, so two hours of time. I don’t know how far you had to travel, me I’d have to travel about… Read more »

Traciatim
Traciatim
12 years ago

If you believe that CO2 drives climate then you would avoid things like U-Pick, and stick to the closest farmers market. Take for instance if 30 families each drive 10 Miles out to a farm and then back getting 30MPG they would each burn .66 gallons of fuel for 19.8 gallons. Now, if all that food was put on a transport truck or even a 1 ton cube truck that gets 5 MPG and brought to an area where those families can walk or bus then you only burn 4 gallons of fuel, plus say 4 for the bus trip… Read more »

MSJW
MSJW
12 years ago

Sadly Gunnar Tveiten and Traciatim kind of just stole my thunder. Because while it is awesome (and I believe necessary) to support our local farmers, it may be less efficient in a number of ways to go to U-picks. Aside from the GHG emissions perspective, you have to realize that the “store” prices include transportation and picking. Leaving the time of picking out of the equation (because it could have been fun and therefore avoid opportunity cost arguments), it may simply have cost you more to drive out to the farm and back than you saved (i.e. $.50*mi >?< $.40*lbs… Read more »

deepali
deepali
12 years ago

So get on your freaking bike and ride out there, you negative Nancys. 🙂

@ Gunnar – Picking your own veggies is exercise too. So you saved an hour at the gym, which you’ll likely need if you spend those extra 15 minutes at work… Do it often enough and you won’t need the gym membership whatsoever.

Plus, there’s the factor of whether time spent at the office is *actually* worth more than time spent with people you care about… doing an activity solely for pleasure (instead of productivity)…

Mo Money
Mo Money
12 years ago

Don’t you just love the farmer’s markets and the u-pick farms!

Miss Thrifty
Miss Thrifty
12 years ago

Oh, I love Pick-Your-Own places! We’ve had a spot of bother in the UK though; they’re closing left, right and centre, because too many customers are turning up and gobbling more fruit than they place in their punnets!

Trust a few to ruin it for everyone else.

I like PYO flower farms too.

Steve
Steve
12 years ago

It might feel good to get strawberries for 75 cents a pound or green beens for 60 cents a pound. But financially I don’t think you can really justify u-picking. It depends basically on your time being worth maybe a dollar or two an hour, financially speaking. That said, if you like hanging out outside in the bushes for a couple hours, then it’s not so bad. Don’t get me wrong, DW and I rode our bikes and spent an hour or so picking 3 pounds of blueberries. But the next day I bought more blueberries on sale for only… Read more »

Sara
Sara
12 years ago

I love going to u-pick farms in the summer for strawberries and raspberries. To all the naysayers who think it’s not worth the time and gas, I don’t know of any farmers markets near me (the closest one that comes to mind is at least 20 miles away), but there are two u-pick farms on my 5-mile drive home from work. These farms also sell pre-picked produce, but they generally charge about 50% more for it. I certainly wouldn’t go 25 miles out of my way to go to a u-pick farm (especially if there were a farmers market nearby),… Read more »

Kris
Kris
12 years ago

I agree with those of you who say that u-pick is not a huge cost savings. However, this is a chance for me to vote with my dollars. I want the local farmers to stay, I want the u-pick option to stay, so I choose to spend my money there instead of other venues. And in this case, both the u-pick farm and the organic produce stand are on my route home from work, so the travel is negligible. Now, if only Jd liked beans!

Another Personal Finance Blog
Another Personal Finance Blog
12 years ago

My wife just picked us several pounds of blueberries. We enjoyed some of them fresh and froze the rest. They cost us $18. I don’t know what the comparison is, but certainly cheaper.

mythago
mythago
12 years ago

“How much your time is worth” matters more if you are actually paid by the hour AND if you substitute that time at the U-Pick for time you would spend working. If I go pick strawberries for two hours rather than watch TV, that’s not an economic loss. If I am salaried, I don’t get paid more for working two hours more.

Newt
Newt
12 years ago

Fun anecdote for you; I tried to go into home gardening this year in a fairly major way and did ABSOLUTELY LOUSY. Cucumber beetles chewed up everything, squash bugs poisoned the vines that were left, and the squirrels…my god, the squirrels…would chew the bottom 6″ of trunk off of a 4′ tall tomato plant and leave it for dead. I expected maybe $100-200 worth of vegetables in yield; I got 4 cucumbers, zero tomatoes, and 1 bell pepper that “might” be ready by frost. Seriously thinking of applying for federal farm aid… Ah well. The morning glories did excellent, at… Read more »

Miss Gisele B.
Miss Gisele B.
12 years ago

This is also a very good way to control what we eat and also ensure that we increase the amount of raw foods in our diet.

The fact that we can save extra money by growing our own fruits and vegetables is icing on the cake!

Miss Gisele B.

Gunnar Tveiten
Gunnar Tveiten
12 years ago

Hi, I wasn’t one of the naysayers, indeed I said; I still recommend it though; but for reasons ENTIRELY disconnected from financial savings.

U-pick is an EXCELLENT idea, for many reasons, I listed some of them above.

My entire point was that financial savings typically ISNT one of those reasons.

Steve
Steve
12 years ago

I agree that too many people answer “How much your time is worth” with too high of a number, but the reality is that one’s time should be worth at a minimum, minimum wage * (1 – your marginal tax bracket). Regardless, I go u-picking every year because it’s fun.

Jane
Jane
12 years ago

I wanted to go pick peaches this August at a local farm. Then I saw that it would cost $1.50 lb to pick, even though the same local farm’s peaches were $1.50 lb at my supermarket. I only want to sweat away in the hot Missouri sun if I save some money! Whether I pick at the farm directly or I buy the same peaches at the grocery store I support local farming, so it was a no-brainer for me to buy them nearby.

Gunnar Tveiten
Gunnar Tveiten
12 years ago

Value of time. The answer for value of time will be different for everyone. It depends partly on what you’d otherwise do with your time, partly on your pay-level. And partly on how much you’ve got of it. If you’ve got little money, a lot of time, and few things you consider important to do with it, your time has a reasonably low value. Say if you’re unemployed and have no children. Having something useful to do would probably even be a good thing, even if it paid only a bit. On the other hand, if you’re making $50/hour, paid… Read more »

freecia
freecia
12 years ago

There’s also the hidden cost of storage space and the canning jars/supplies. Just saying that costs money, too. The space vs bargain trade-off sometimes gets me. If you have limited space, sometimes it is wiser to pass up a good deal because your space is valuable and things might expire before you consume them.

Bibbi
Bibbi
11 years ago

I would like to set up a U PICK for my citrus trees. I’m a disabled backyard gardener. How does one build the collection box for an honor system?

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