As berries begin to ripen, many of us anticipate the fresh sweetness of Oregon grown fruit and the opportunity to pick-our-own at local farms. Perhaps this year, even more than most, we are looking forward to getting outdoors, being active and breathing in farm fresh air.
Farmers that feature on-farm picking, known as U-pick, are gearing up to welcome visitors, starting at the end of May for strawberries and mid- to late June for blueberries.
However, customers should expect some changes this season.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, farms will have extra sanitation and guidelines in place to keep their employees and visitors healthy. To comply with the 6-feet or longer social distancing rule, on-farm picking may only be allowed in certain rows. Some farmers are also considering ways to schedule harvest times in advance.
“We'll be working with customers to make sure that groups are appropriately distanced from one another,” said Andrea Davis of Kings Valley Gardens, a blueberry U-pick farm in Benton County. “We'll also be open on Sundays, in addition to Friday and Saturdays, for the first five weeks of the season to try and make sure we don't have too many people at once.”
Christina Fordyce of Fordyce Farm in Marion County said, “We will assign our U-pick customers two rows apart instead of the usual neighboring rows to enforce social distancing guidelines, adding that that the farm will have a handwashing station by the field for both staff and customers.
Some farmers are also considering ways to minimize handling of the fruit. Kiger Island Blues, a blueberry farm near Corvallis, is planning to sell by the bucket instead of weighing fruit after it’s picked this year.
“I’ve sourced food grade buckets that my customers can fill up for a flat rate of $10 and then take the bucket home with them,” said Kiger Island Blues owner Mindi Miller.
To have a fun and successful U-pick experience, there are a few things you should keep in mind:
- To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, don’t go if you are sick or have symptoms.
- Check the farm website, social media accounts like Facebook – or call ahead for picking days and hours and any new procedures this year.
- Wearing facemasks might be encouraged by the farm.
- Consider bringing your own container for picking or to take home your fruit. If you do, make sure they are washed, disinfected and rinsed. Not all farms provide containers.
- Pick what you touch to minimize the spread of germs.
- Don’t eat the fruit while picking and avoid touching your face.
- Payment options vary by farm. Some will be discouraging the use of cash while others don’t have the option to take debit or credit cards. Be prepared for both payment options.
- Areas that may have been used as gathering places in the past might not be available this year, such as barns, shade trees, canopies, etc. Come prepared with the appropriate sun protection and clothing.
- Be mindful of your distance between others in locations like the parking area, picking in the fields and waiting in line to pay for produce.
- There might be more wait time in lines due to additional sanitation procedures such as disinfecting scales and checkout areas.
“We are committed to providing quality fruit to our customers – something we believe no one should miss out on during this time,” Fordyce said. “Eating seasonally and spending time outdoors have many health benefits. We wish to provide this opportunity to our customers while also doing whatever is necessary to keep our customers safe. We also ask that our customers be mindful of the health of those around them and please save your U-picking for another day if you are ill.”
Safely picking and enjoying tasty, nutritious Oregon berries benefits the farmers and consumers.
“I enjoy U-pick season, it’s a fun way for me to work with the public,” Miller said.
“It’s a great crop this year,” Fordyce said about her strawberries. “We look forward to seeing people out there.”
OSU Extension and the Oregon Department of Agriculture have guidance on the U-pick experience.
There are also several resources for finding a local U-pick farm in your area, including: