Back in 2013 I packed a suitcase and headed for British Columbia, not knowing how much the culture of outdoor living would have a longer-term impact on my consideration for the natural world. This organic affiliation with outdoor spaces was both inspiring and thought-provoking.
Why were the people of Canada so in tune with outdoor recreation? The climate certainly had an impact as the summer months allowed for the production of fruit varieties that would be the envy of many countries. Another factor was the close connection between the public and the farms/orchard operators.
Fast forward 10 years to 2023 and two failed start-ups to cater to those who wanted to connect with nature and food and here I am rambling about the same passion for picking fruit, wild foods and connecting with nature.
Last year I wrote an article about the issues facing our future food supplies if producers continue to ignore the trends pointing towards a green-focused economy. This article discussed the fragmented approach to food production and distribution, identifying key areas of improvement and future ways that we could consider using technology to enhance transparency within our manufacturing processes.
What are pick-your-own farms?
Pick-your-own farms, also known as “U-pick” or “PYO” farms, are farms where visitors can go to pick their own produce, such as fruits, vegetables, or berries, directly from the fields. These farms provide an opportunity for people to experience agriculture and learn about where their food comes from. They also offer the freshest, local ingredients and an alternative to supermarket chains that often bring in produce shipped from around the world.
Many pick-your-own farms have different types of products available at different times of the year. Additionally, many farms offer extra activities, such as wine tasting, pumpkin picking, jam making, petting zoos and family days out.
Why should we cultivate a pick-your-own culture in Europe?
Pick-your-own farms typically operate seasonally, which is another reason to love them. What happened to wait until it was berry season to pick berries, holding out for Autumn to get the best chanterelles or making apple tart in September when the kids go back to school? The food we eat is undoubtedly connected with our family traditions and identity. Increased demand for a year-round supply of all foods from everywhere threatens the very enjoyment of eating, tasting, and valuing the foods we grow up alongside.
There are many positive reasons to foster a love for picking locally grown food. From building a sustainable future to supporting local businesses to eating the freshest ingredients, the list is endless. Being closer to nature is now even prescribed by doctors in South Korea, the US and Finland with 5 hours as the minimum time per month recommended by some doctors in Finland. However, the common benefit for all who engage in pick-your-own activities is the sense of community.
By establishing pick-your-own farms and encouraging pick-your-own activities, a way of life develops within a community. Not only are traditional foods of a region preserved, but the outdoor lifestyle is also preserved and that feeling of attachment to a place or region is more firmly rooted as many people increasingly spend time attached to new ways of interacting and new virtual work patterns. A sense of community is what binds the notion of identity together.
The act of picking fruit at the weekends becomes a ritual, firmly engrained in community life.
Grow Local, Pick Local
If you already have the GIY ‘Grow it Yourself’ bug then pick-your-own farms that offer the chance to immerse yourself in the land will be right up your street.
Locally sourced food is the freshest kind you will find. Just consider the long distances traveled by food that reaches our supermarket shelves. Better tracking of our food supply chains will help us to understand the impact the origin of food has on our natural environments.
Another reason to canvas for a pick-your-own culture is to support local farmers and food lovers. By purchasing local food you are feeding the local economy ad helping to build a sustainable future for smaller farmers.
A major reason why I chose to write about local food, foraging and fixing our supply chains is to research the impact our food consumption is having on the environments where this food is sourced. Picking local and increasing our understanding of local food availability can help to reduce our carbon footprint and prevent unnecessary long-distance transportation of food.
Where to find pick-your-own farms
Pick-your-own farms are not very established in Europe. However, there is a growing interest in the development of rural tourism and green initiatives that encourage a newfound appreciation for locally grown produce. This list is not exhaustive but it does include a few key places that have established pick-your-own activities.