Strawberry Season and U-pick Etiquette

June 7, 2013 · 16 comments

U-pick strawberry season // Wayward Spark

I just took a shower last night and noticed that I have a nasty stripe of bright pink sunburn on my back just above the waistline of my shorts. I know this mark well. In my farm worker days, we used to call it the “sunset tan” because it resembled a sunset by starting in a distinct horizon line and then gradually faded out as it went upward. (Maybe this is the farming equivalent of a tramp stamp?) I spent a couple hours picking strawberries yesterday, my third time this week, and unbeknownst to me, my shirt was riding up a little, exposing a bit of ultra-white winter flesh to the full, 80° sunshine. I think I’ll live through this experience (like I have million times before).

I picked at Greengable Gardens. Their patch is pretty small, and the operation is mostly self-serve. The picking was okay, and the berries tasted pretty good, though hopefully they’ll get a bit sweeter with more sunshine. It was obvious that the patch had been picked over in the days prior, and there were at least seven other adults already there when I showed up.

After the harvest, I spent almost an equal amount of time washing and dehulling most of the lot and then froze them in a single layer on a baking sheet (like I did two years ago here). I’ll pull them out at some later time for jam or pie or whatever.

I would like to just say a few words about U-picking etiquette. This is going to make me sound like a grumpy old lady, but maybe that’s just my true character, so I’m saying it anyway.

A) If the place where you’re picking has no assigned rows, and it’s large and uncrowded, you are free to harvest willy-nilly wherever you want. If, however, the patch is small and there are a lot of people there, please choose a row and mostly stick to it. Yesterday, I found an unoccupied row and started picking along when all of a sudden I looked up, and the guy from the neighboring row was picking in my row about five feet ahead of me. I was super annoyed, but I just moved over to the next (unoccupied) row and continued on until the same guy jumped into my row AGAIN right in front of me. Then I took my bowl and moved to the other side of the patch.

B) It’s totally okay to bring your kids berry picking. I do it all the time and also have great memories of accompanying my parents on berry picking expeditions when I was little. If you are going to bring your kids, however, please please PLEASE make sure they are under your control at all times and not wrecking things or getting into trouble. Yesterday, there was a mom with a maybe two year old who I barely even noticed, but there were also two mom friends with three kids each. The gang of six children was running back and forth across the rows and through the flower beds, stomping on whatever was in their path. One of the moms was making a half-hearted effort to keep them from wreaking havoc on the place, but the other mom didn’t seem to care much. About halfway through picking, I looked up to see that all six of them had descended on a full bucket of strawberries that I had set aside in the shade and were stuffing handfulls of berries in their mouths. I walked over and very politely told them that those were my berries and could they please not eat them. One kid told me they thought someone had left it behind, which still wasn’t a good enough excuse to think they could eat them, but whatever. A minute later, one of the moms noticed what was happening and came over apologizing and offering me some of her own berries to top off my bucket. That was a very nice and appropriate gesture, but I kinda wished we could have avoided the situation altogether. My kids aren’t perfect little angels. They might do the same thing if left unsupervised, which is why parents really need to keep an eye on their kids at all times. There are plenty of adults that waste fruit, damage property, and annoy other customers, too, but when kids do it, it gives all of us parents who bring our children along with us to the berry patch a bad reputation.

There are other issues about dogs, bathroom habits, and eating berries while picking (that I feel is totally acceptable up to a point) that I won’t get into here. Feel free to add your won U-picking pet peeves in the comments. I curious to hear of your experiences. Overall, though, I do think that U-picking is absolutely the way to go if you can’t or don’t want to grow your own. And you really can’t beat $1 per pound of strawberries!

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Christine June 7, 2013 at 10:52 am

I definitely accompanied my mom on lots of U-Picking trips to Sauvies Island as a kid and I think I was probably mostly well behaved. However, one time when I was about five, I gorged myself on so many strawberries in the field that I made myself sick. From then on I refused to eat normal strawberries for years and years. I would only eat wild strawberries. My mom would make me tiny little wild strawberry tarts when the rest of the family was eating strawberry pie. I know, I was very spoiled.

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Eve Geisler June 7, 2013 at 11:03 am

The best thing to do is take your small children berry picking for half an hour. Kids just cannot stay well behaved in berry patches. One of those two moms should have stayed home with all the kids if they wanted some serious berry picking time. I used to run a home daycare and I would take the kids, but never expected to actually pick more than a couple of quarts, or stay for any length of time.
Farmers should assign rows and people should stick to them. As a former farmer, we used to hate the self pickers…they always left berries behind and jumped around, messing up everything for everybody.

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Lori June 7, 2013 at 3:47 pm

When I was little, my dad’s friend had a U-pick strawberry farm near Battle Ground, WA, and we’d go picking every summer with our big yellow Tupperware bowls and buckets from dad’s work. I don’t remember seeing many other kids there, but I do remember the beautiful fields, the sunshine, and that my dad always made it a fun contest of who could pick the most in a certain period of time. Of course, my sister and I together could never pick as much as he did, but it always kept us focused on picking. (I realize this may not work for everyone.) When we got home, we had to help wash and cut them for immediate use or for freezing. It was always the best- and a wonderful memory now from childhood – to have that bonding time with my dad and then a bowl of fresh strawberries you helped pick and prepare yourself. I wonder why the kids where you picked weren’t helping. That’s a missed great opportunity for kids to learn about the satisfaction of working together and the fruits of labor.

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EcoGrrl June 7, 2013 at 6:12 pm

I would kick some serious ass if I saw someone eating the berries I’d been picking ! I agree with you completely on all counts. I love going out to Sauvie Island and picking fruit in the summer. My strawberries at home usually give me what I need but I always head out to the island for about 20-30 lbs of blueberries – can’t get enough! :)

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Lee June 7, 2013 at 8:08 pm

$1 a pound?! Lucky you! I just looked it up and not only will I have to wait about 2 more weeks to go picking in my area, I will also be paying $1.80 if I go conventional and $3 if I splurge for organic. Time to start planting my own.

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sarah June 8, 2013 at 11:06 am

round my neck of the woods it goes from3-7 $ a lb. not even organic!

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Eleanor June 8, 2013 at 6:18 am

There is unwritten etiquette in almost anything we can do as humans and it drives me nuts when people do not follow it. Cranky old lady you are not – people are simply clueless to proper behavior.
And “the farming equivalent of a tramp stamp”?
I will be laughing all day!

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Keapdx June 8, 2013 at 7:34 am

Try to pick “clean”. We used to make a little money for school clothes by picking berries in the summer . It annoys me when people pick a berry here and there and leave fruit for someone else to clean up or go to waste. Assigned rows yeah! That said I’ll plug one of my Pdx area favorites West Union Gardens. All sorts of cane berries. Tay berries are incredible for jam. Only u-pick currants and gooseberries that I know of. Now, out to rustle up some Hoods!

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Jessica June 8, 2013 at 9:00 am

I get my vegetables from a small local farm and sometimes we get to pick some stuff and it drives me nutty when the farm has given us direction on how much to pick per person and people (well, one woman in particular) obviously picks more than her fair share. I just think it’s rude.

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Pamela June 8, 2013 at 10:23 am

I totally agree about the U-pick etiquette. We pick at Green Gables too, and I have been picking there since I was a little kid going with my mom. One of the rules I learned early on was to not only don’t switch rows so as not to impinge on others’ picking, but because it’s important to pick the row you choose thoroughly. If you pick it half-heartedly, then it’s not good picking for a while, so it will either be skipped and the berries you leave behind are more likely to go bad, or it’ll make for frustrating picking for someone else. This might not be as important early in the season like now when new berries are ripening every day, but it’s generally how I try to roll.
Side note: Michael and I have noticed that Green Gables leaves the self-serve U-pick station open all night, so we’ve taken to going later in the evening – no sun burns and usually no other pickers. It’s super pleasant picking at 7 or 8:00 when it’s still perfectly light and warm but not so hot and much quieter.

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Katie June 8, 2013 at 10:27 am

I’ve been there (your A and B). I just give the people ‘the eye’ and that usually works. One time in a strawberry patch two women got into a shouting match because one started picking in the other’s row. The rows were assigned. I felt like clapping!

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Katie Miller June 10, 2013 at 10:29 am

Great post! I’m growing a u-pick pickle patch this year for my first ever selling via u-pick experience and I’ve been wondering how to handle the “rules”.

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Camille June 15, 2013 at 9:13 am

Being the proprietor of a U-pick operation sounds pretty rough to me. I would imagine it’s hard to find a balance between protecting your crops (and profits) and being a nit-picky, unpleasant person. Good luck!

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Rachel June 10, 2013 at 11:11 am

U-pick pet peeves — what a great topic!

I have been to 2 farms now that assign you only one side of a strawberry row, i.e. only the right-hand or left-hand side. This is bizarre to me because if you are a fast or slow picker, you will collide with the person picking the other side of the row… and you have to move yourself and your containers twice as far to pick the same amount of berries.

Also, this makes me feel like a curmudgeon, but there is no reason why people can’t step out of the field if they need to take a phone call. In addition to how annoying it is to overhear half of a phone conversation, I’ve actually had to wait to carry my tray out of the field because someone was on their cell phone in the middle of the row blocking my path.

And on a lighter note, I know of two local farms that have a “Sin Bin” where you deposit some money if you feel bad about the number of berries you have eaten. The proceeds are donated to a local charity.

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Leslie January 13, 2014 at 8:47 pm

A. Men.

I’d also add that children should not be allowed (let along encouraged) to pee in the orchards. Seriously.

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Joan July 31, 2018 at 7:48 am

My peeve was discovered on Sunday. In my favorite blueberry patch someone had brought a radio. It is not Jones Beach, people! Now, it was low enough, not blaring and I tried to take the following into consideration: would it be different if they were singing while picking? (Yes, bc that seems right to me). Perhaps this is the way they need to occupy their brains while picking vs being in a more quiet moment. IDK. I could hear horses (nice!) and cars (oh well) in the distance. Those are accepted parts of the environment. I felt the radio broached a boundary. I didn’t approach them although I thought about it. I might have it it were louder. Suffice it to say I was annoyed and tried to tune it out and let go in order to enjoy my own experience.

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