Pick-your-own or PYO berries are a great way to add income to a small farm or homestead, and often do better in a challenging economy.
Local extension offices can help you hoose the right berries for your location and how many bushes needed to maximize profit in your space, but there are many other factors that should be weighed before you decide to pluck this juicy opportunity.
Most of your customers are going to be fairly close by. Do you think you can get enough customers within a 15 or 20-minute drive from your farm? The farther away you are, the harder it will be to market your presence.
Insurance and licensing
Regular farm or homeowners insurance will not cover a PYO business, so you will need additional liability insurance. Contact your local health department and town clerk to see if this is required and how to apply.
Your customers will need a place to park and you need to think about the busiest weekend at the peak of season as your maximum number. If everyone drives a minivan can you fit a couple dozen in your parking space?
While a PYO operation won’t have labor costs for picking, you will still need someone to run the check-out stand and help customers. How much labor you need will depend on how you price your items. If you use weight, a price per pound, you will need more labor than if you have a price per container or piece.
You will need lots of signs directing people from every major and minor road to your farm. Choose something distinctive and easy to follow. Make sure that there are clear signs for where to park, where to find the restrooms, and what your prices are. Making these can be a fun activity for family and friends!
Many of the PYO customers are going to be families with children. Access to a clean restroom is a must especially if you are more than a few minutes from a large population center.
You will need to market to your potential customers so they know where you are located and when to come. It doesn’t help if everyone comes before the berries are ripe. They are unlikely to come again if they don’t have a great experience. Festivals and farm days are great ways to bring people in. Once they are at the farm, the longer they stay, the more they will purchase.
Use new technology whenever possible, like social media and a website. Make sure you have an answering machine or website to announce picking conditions in advance. Use e-mail notification at the opening of the season so customers can get excited about paying a visit. Include recipes and stories from the farm on the website to build business and community.
Once you have a customer at your operation, what else can you sell them? Do you have related products? If you have PYO strawberries, can you grow and sell rhubarb? Do you have other fruits and vegetables for sale? Make sure that you additional items are easy to find, attractively displayed, and have clearly marked prices. Also pre-picked fruit will be appealing to many customers who might not be able to pick their own.
No part of farming or homesteading is easy. Hosting a PYO operation requires a farmer who loves interacting with the public and has a high tolerance for the public during picking season. While not for the faint of heart, PYO can be a good source of income and potential customers for any farm.
Top Image Credit: Flickr – aMichiganMom