Pick-your-owns aren't created equally

My Dad was a farm boy, and I married a farm boy. So it’s probably not a coincidence that I’m drawn to strawberry fields in late spring, farmer’s markets all summer and autumn, and, above all else, apple picking season! Growing up in a family with four kids, with one income, pick-your-own outings were a staple — one of the few affordable and fun outings that work when your eldest and youngest are nearly nine years apart.

Now that I have my own kids, I’ve tried to keep the tradition going. But what’s changed over the years is that, depending on where you go, pick-your-own isn’t necessarily an affordable afternoon out. You’ve got to shop around. For instance:

Bronwyn and Matt don’t like strawberries (I know — what is up with that?), so we haven’t done a lot of strawberry picking. But even if we wanted to (Bronwyn enjoys picking, just not eating, and Isobel does eat strawberries from time to time), there’s a certain large and very popular establishment that I have vowed to avoid since the icky experience we had there when Bronwyn was two. It was crowded, difficult to find parking, you had to walk forever to get to the fields and huge signs everywhere screamed “DO NOT SAMPLE STRAWBERRIES UNTIL AFTER YOU HAVE PAID.” Huh? Part of the joy of strawberry picking is stuffing your face with strawberries in the field! It was a hot day, and some families took refuge from the searing sun under a line of trees; a few had inadvertently sat on an irrigation pipe, and were not kindly notified of that fact, but immediately yelled at. That’s not my idea of a family-friendly outing, or even an acceptable way to run a business, yet people keep going to this place because they have slick marketing, and (location, location, location!) they’re not too far up the highway from Toronto.

For the past few years we’ve been going to a rather nice orchard for apple picking, which supplies a wagon ride, plus a corn maze and playground equipment for kids. The apples are tasty, there are a lot of different varieties, and no one was preventing the customers from sampling as they pleased. However. There’s an admission fee to get in, and if you happened to forget reusable bags, you’d have to buy reusable bags. Leaving with less than a bushel of apples generally cost us around $40 in total. Ouch!

Bronwyn has also been missing out on the experience of climbing the trees, since most orchards now have dwarf varieties that are more like fruit-laden bushes than tress. So this year, Matt did a bit of online research and found a small, less slick but way less pricey place called Devins Orchards. Zero admission fee, free bags for those who’ve forgotten (we did, as it happens, bring our own cloth bags), and about the same quantity of apples, plus two freshly-baked cookies, for $20. Now, where was no corn maze, but there was a very nice play structure and, even better than a corn maze, there were four friendly miniature horses who happily accepted straw from kids’ outstretched hands. Our girls were thrilled. And (drumroll, please): Several climbable trees mixed in among the dwarves! Have a look:

Driving home as the girls munched on their cookies, Matt said, “Raise your hand if you hand fun!”

We all did.

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