Farmers make changes to reduce liability, encourage more pickers
By DAVE WILKINS
If Richard Kelley had his choice, all of his cherries, peaches, apples and other fruit would be picked by his customers.
"It works out good for me," the owner of Kelley Orchards said of the U-pick option.
His customers benefit as well, through a deeply discounted price.
People who pick their own bing cherries at Kelley Orchard near Buhl, Idaho, this summer pay 95 cents a pound, compared to $2.99 a pound in the grocery store.
"That's a big savings," Kelley said.
Fruit production in south-central Idaho is quite limited due to the freezing temperatures in early spring.
The few commercial producers in the area rely on fruit stands, farmers' markets and U-pick. There are no commercial fruit packing sheds.
About 20 to 25 percent of Kelley's fruit is sold through U-pick. If the owner had his way, all of it would be sold that way.
"For me, it's a hands-off deal," Kelley said. "I don't have to pick the fruit, I don't have to box it and I don't have to haul it."
About the only drawback is the risk that someone will fall off a ladder and get hurt.
"There are so many people getting away from (U-pick) because of liability," Kelley said.
He asks that no one younger than 16 or older than 55 use the ladders, although they're welcome to pick what they can from the ground.
Kelley has also switched to much smaller trees in recent years, in part to reduce his liability.
"I don't have any trees taller than 12 feet now," he said.
Kelley Orchards has offered U-pick since the business started in 1908. Many of the same families come out year after year.
The same kind of customer loyalty can be found at the Raugust Strawberry Farm near Jerome, Idaho.
Owners Arlen and Connie Raugust have been in business 43 years. They've always relied on U-pickers to harvest the majority of their crop.
The Raugusts don't sell at farmers' markets, and they don't have a fruit stand.
They see no need for either as long as customers are willing to pick the crop themselves.
When customers arrive at the farm, Raugust leads them into the field and shows them where to pick.
Customers gladly pay $4 per gallon for the privilege of picking their own berries, they said.
Some of the customers who showed up on a recent July morning said they come out every year, picking as many as 20 gallons to make homemade jam and to freeze some berries for the winter.
The Raugusts pick some of the berries for people who can't pick themselves or prefer not to.
There have been a few years when poor crop production has forced the family to restrict U-pick and harvest most of the berries themselves.
This year, they're happy to have a good, thick crop and will welcome U-pickers for the full four-week harvest season.
"We'd rather it all be U-pick," Arlen Raugust said.