If you would think that farming and farmlands are just limited to the villagers’ lifestyle you could be highly mistaken. If you would think that living in urban towns you cannot be walking through the slushy mud on the farm fields again you will be too wrong. Sure, you need not be a farmer yet you can have the luxury of picking those tender okra, beans, squash and pumpkins from the plants and climbers on which it grows just before bringing it to your homes and cook the delicious lunch meal. You need not be an orchard owner to reach high to pick the red delicious apples or those bright coloured oranges or the bunches of blueberries and the red strawberries just before stocking them in refrigerators at home. Thanks to the U-Pick farms that are so many in and around the well-populated township in the US, one can just have the fun of walking into the farms to pick the produce of your choice. While this is a favourite family weekend fun activity for the traditional Americans, for the Indian immigrants living in this part of the globe, it is even more cherished activity during the months of May and October.
“It is so much fun to pick vegetables of our choice from the farm, they are so fresh and tender that we love to do it every year. Our kids love hayrides as a bonus. Living in the garden state of New Jersey is a treat for us to pass by these thick green farmlands spread in hundreds of acres just around where we live,” observed a resident of Plainsboro township in New Jersey.
“Having been born and brought up in the cities back in India, the experience of walking into a farm to pick our own vegetables is just so new and exciting. City life has always taught us that vegetables are to be picked from vendors, and so these U-Pick farm experiences have been so relaxing and at the same time engaging, observed another.
The U-Pick farm visits take the whole day out. Driving through the fields in our own cars and stopping at each vegetable patch and picking fresh vegetables is exciting indeed. For most people, it’s a leisure weekend family activity. It’s just not picking but cleaning and storing these when we return home which is a whole process by itself. “Apples of different sizes and shapes really excites my kids that they never stop picking and I end up making apple pies and jams for them,” said a proud Indian mom working in the IT industry.
“Our kids love to walk through the farm and hunt for the most delicious strawberries. It’s so much fun to see whose bag gets first filled. Strawberry jam bottles get stocked in my cabinet usually after the farm visit. When our in-laws visited us last year, they had such a great time in these farms,” shared another.
Interestingly, these farms have added much of an entertainment value that attracts families to come in large groups. Music with wine served in the evenings, leisure and stress buster activities like yoga being offered in some farms, tractor rides, pony rides and hayrides, petting the farm animals all make the whole trip worth a picnic. Birthday parties and wedding anniversary get-togethers are all planned in these farms.
However, during pandemic times these experiences have also been reworked. “We have responded in a short time by equipping ourselves with online strategies. Now people who plan to visit can make reservations online. We limit the number of people visiting by allotting time slots. When customers arrive, they are handed over the bags for the price they pay and they can drive into the farm and fill the bags and leave. This limits the contact of people with our staff. Everyone wears a mask. No parties, only pick your produce rules apply now,” said the spokesperson of the Mount family-owned Terhune Orchards in the heart of Central Jersey. This is the most stressful time for farm owners like us, she said adding that we have a well-knit support system that guides us through. Mainly the research guidance from the academic field, particularly the Universities, is huge support navigating us through the business, she said.
The farms save a lot of labour cost by allowing the customers to pick the produce they require and it is so important and luckily, they are able to do this in a safe manner.
Visiting the farms seems to be a safe option for the customers as well. Instead of going to crowded shops to buy vegetables, U-Pick options are seen as a safe outdoor activity during the pandemic. Even during the thick of the pandemic these farms accepted online orders and offered curbside pickup with no contact. The products were placed in the trunk of the cars when the customers arrived.
The weekend farm markets that stock the local produce of vegetables and fruits is yet another connection with the local farmers that the township residents enjoy. “We make sure we spend our Saturday mornings at these farm shops to get so much fresh produce. Today, these farms are organising farm markets under tents in open spaces maintaining social distancing.”
It’s nice to see that farmers are not confined to a special place called a village and are not shied away from cities. They coexist in the main towns and it’s a well-developed industry highly modernised that they require less manpower. Hundreds of acres of agricultural lands around where a modern corporate professional life is just an indication of how corporatised the farming industry is. For the immigrants from India, exposed just either to the fast-moving city life or limited to the serene village life, this U-Pick experience offers a nice combo.
— The writer is a journalist based in New York