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October 09, 2007

The Dark Side of Apple Picking

"Savvy farmers all over the country have discovered a practice that might not work as a nationwide agricultural policy, but that has allowed some economically inefficient orchards to thrive," writes Daniel Gross. "Encourage yuppies and their progeny to come pick your fruit—they'll pay handsomely for the privilege, buy more than they'd ordinarily consume, and then shell out for all sorts of other value-added products. It's the best use of child labor since Manchester's early 19th-century textile mills."

That seems about right. I went apple picking a few weeks ago, and now have somewhere around 35 apples slowly rotting in my cupboard. I don't even really like apples. But the day was nice, and I spent most of it happily launching apples at my roommates from the cover of the trees, so it was basically worth it.

October 9, 2007 | Permalink


When you do the PYO thing at a farm or orchard, you're definitely paying for the experience, far more than the fruit. So if you go pick your own whatever and have a good time, then it's win-win.

Here in exurban Maryland (about a half-hour south of Annapolis, not that it matters), I pick my own raspberries and (sometimes) blackberries in season. But they grow in unattended patches along the side of the road in various places around here, and are free for the picking.

Travel's minimal, the experience is great, and the price is right.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist | Oct 9, 2007 11:07:45 AM

Blog less, bake more. That takes care of the 35 extra apples.

Posted by: David in NY | Oct 9, 2007 11:35:35 AM

Lots of people have an unmet need to labor. It gets diverted into endless house re-models and sports, but this kind of work is one of the human needs.

Posted by: Megan | Oct 9, 2007 11:36:26 AM

shit, and i thought i was dumb for VOLUNTEERING to work picking grapes for a friend of the family [and getting paid in really bad wine].

maybe we're approaching ursula leguin's imagined anarchist paradise in which everyone spends 3 months doing everyone else's job on a rotating basis. when do i get to see bush clearing brush on my property?

Posted by: r@d@r | Oct 9, 2007 11:37:43 AM

Yeah, the vineyards around here get lots of free labor. My family used to go pick apples and cherries, but we all really like those fruits, so we ate a hell of a lot while picking (they should have weighed us before and after) and the fruit we paid for got used pretty quickly.

Given the scarcity of apple-throwing opportunities, I'd say that whatever you paid for the chance was worth it.

Posted by: Stephen | Oct 9, 2007 11:50:58 AM

> When you do the PYO thing at a farm or orchard,
> you're definitely paying for the experience, far
> more than the fruit.

I guess I am missing something. Picking apples 12 hours/day 6 days/week at piecework rates is very unpleasant. Picking apples at your own pace for an afternoon on a crisp fall day is fun.

And if you go to a good orchard you can get apples much better than commercial (including oddball and heirloom varieties that wouldn't make it though a sorting machine) without any wax on them. Since our family can easily go through a bushel of apples in a week it seems to be a good thing to me.


Posted by: Cranky Observer | Oct 9, 2007 11:53:38 AM

On Labor Day, I went biking on a road I hadn't biked before, even though it's not far at all from my house. On the way back, I ran into an apple orchard. There are a bunch in this area, but I don't think I had ever seen that particular one before. So, not having any other plans for the day, that afternoon I got in my car and picked a peck of Macintosh apples. I ambled around the orchard on a leisurely afternoon, scrutinizing apples to find exactly which were the best, but so early in the season, practically all of them were usable. Having bought them, I ate one or two a day over the following two weeks, much healthier than my usual snacks. Even so, I got worried they wouldn't be used up before I left for a week to visit relatives, so it spurred me to challenge myself and try to do a little baking. (It didn't turn out as intended, but it tasted fine, so oh well.)

I don't remember how much I paid, but I'd estimate it was around $6 to $8. It's easy for Gross to say "Look at those stupid yuppies, do they really think zoos and orchards count as getting close to nature?" or "Why do farmers have any money trouble if there's a market for stuff like this?" Still, I'd say my peck would have been a bargain at twice the price.

Posted by: Cyrus | Oct 9, 2007 12:08:16 PM

Has anyone told Mr. Gross that we writers exist only for the purpose of keeping the ads from bumping into each other?

Posted by: justawriter | Oct 9, 2007 12:31:57 PM

Going apple-picking and tasting how much better a truly fresh Macintosh right off the tree can be utterly spoiled me for most store-bought apples.

If those apples haven't rotted yet, go buy a few ingredients and bake up some yummy apples pies. It truly is easy, especially if you buy the pre-made dough crusts (skip the graham cracker ones).

Posted by: lux | Oct 9, 2007 12:38:50 PM

Did not Mr. McKibben tell you
No uncertain terms to
Put yer frakkin' apples in the fridge?
Didn't he?


And yours are in the cupboard...fer shame!

Posted by: has_te | Oct 9, 2007 12:48:01 PM

Uh 35 apples you didn't want to eat. What could you have done with them, moron.

Maimonides much?

Posted by: jebus | Oct 9, 2007 1:12:53 PM

The margins on U-Pick are good? Wow. No shit, Sherlock.

If the NC late apple harvest hadn't been done in by the spring frosts, I'd be up on my favourite hilltop orchard next weekend.

Why? Because it's a fantastic way to spend a cool, crisp October morning; you're getting apples straight off the tree; and you get varieties that, frankly, don't get sold outside the farmers' market (by the peck or half-bushel). When did you last see a Stayman Winesap or Arkansas Black in a grocery store? Half the time, the local groceries here are bringing apples in from Washington and California (when they're not coming from Chile and South Africa) while the bulk of the local crop goes to sauce, juice or soft cider.

And ffs, why don't local apple-growers get into the business of single-variety hard cider?

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Oct 9, 2007 2:13:50 PM

Around here, it was half a bushel of apples for $8, which (allowing for us not filling the bag) comes out to about 50 cents a pound, or half to a third of the grocery store price. We ate some, made a pie with more, froze the rest.

It also used up a whole afternoon in gorgeous surroundings. Similar entertainment at, say, a movie, would run $30 or up for a family of three.

Sounds like what Gross is really upset about is the disintermediation and the multitasking. Orchards should sell at unprofitable prices to distributors, and consumers should buy their food and their entertainment separately from large corporations with maximum overhead.

Posted by: paul | Oct 9, 2007 2:43:50 PM

Put them in the cupboard. Spent time throwing them at roomates. You idiot. Good things are wasted on the likes of you.

Posted by: Yan D. Kamecki | Oct 9, 2007 2:59:40 PM

It's called agritourism. Or so my kid just learned in fourth grade social studies.

Posted by: Ohio Mom | Oct 9, 2007 3:40:37 PM

Lots of apples? Make apple sauce, it's a cinch:

Dozen apples (peeled if you like)
2 cups brown sugar
2 cups water
Cinnamon, nutmeg or similar spices to taste.

Dice the apples, put everything in a slow cooker and reserve 1 cup of water. Cook on medium for 4 hours or high for 2 hours. Check every hour and add a little water if too dry. When done, use an immersion blender to smooth it out if you don't like lumps. You can lower the sugar of course if it's too sweet.

Posted by: Fred | Oct 9, 2007 3:45:57 PM

I love picking apples almost as much as I love eating apples.

Posted by: Floccina | Oct 9, 2007 4:18:30 PM

If you paid the same price for fruit that you picked yourself as you would for fruit bought in the store, you either got some really high quality fruit or you got ripped off. There are some real advantages to picking the fruit yourself. Fruit in stores is often picked before it is fully ripe so that it will keep longer. When you pick the fruit yourself, you can get it at the peak of ripeness. You can also get varieties of fruit that are not available at retail. If you are really into fruit, you can get much better stuff at pick-it-yourself operations.

Beyond that, you are also buying the experience . . . and if doing something yourself and saving a buck or two and getting some higher quality fruit doesn't do it for you, then instead of complaining maybe you should just not go pick fruit. From the article, it seems that Daniel Gross really doesn't like apples that much and I agree with him that he probably isn't getting much added value by picking his own apples. For example, his household goes through about 12 apples "in a good week". That's not even an apple a day. If you don't like picking apples and you don't like eating apples, for goodness sake stay away from pick-it-yourself orchards! It seems to me that Gross is just trying to rain on everyone else's parade. From his article, he can't even be bothered to tell the different types of apples apart. Yet to Gross, this is an indication that something is wrong with *America* rather than him just not being into apples.

Dunno, that's just my take.

Posted by: William | Oct 9, 2007 5:13:48 PM

Going apple-picking and tasting how much better a truly fresh Macintosh right off the tree can be utterly spoiled me for most store-bought apples.
This is how I feel about mangos. My grandma in Puerto Rico had mango trees and for years we'd visit during summers and go mango-picking, and yeah, basically, store-bought mangos have never come even close.

I sort of feel about apple-picking like I feel about knitting. Yeah, if I want to knit myself a sweater, it's going to be more expensive than if I buy a sweater; but if I wanted to buy a sweater, I'd buy a damn sweater. Knitting a sweater can bring hours and hours of zen-time.

Posted by: Isabel | Oct 9, 2007 8:10:57 PM

After Apple-Picking
by Robert Frost

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.

And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

Posted by: rm | Oct 9, 2007 9:28:53 PM

Just went picking last week with the wife and kids. It was a very enjoyable way to spend a sunny October Saturday, and, at 1/2 bushel for $17, the fruits of our labors wre quite a bit less costly than supermarket prices. Besides, the apples fresh off the tree are crisp, tart, juicy and flavorful, unlike the store-bought varieties, which are often bred to withstand the rigors of long-distance shipping.

Posted by: Jamey | Oct 10, 2007 11:09:50 AM

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