U-pick helps augment income, but do your homework first

06/26/2014 01:09:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

For those not wanting to pick their own berries, the Hills sell prepicked fruit for $1 per pound more.

Those prices are a good deal for both visitors and the farm, Michael says.

“The main thing is we don’t have to pay $1 per pound to the harvesting crews, and we don’t have to pay $1 (per pound) for packing and sales commission. So the ($4) is really a good price for us, and it’s a good price for the consumer.”

Plus picking your own blueberries creates priceless experiences and memories, he says.

“You have a real sense of pride if you make a pie to give to somebody else,” Michael says.

Depending on how this season goes, the Hills say they may expand to offer other activities next season.

In preparation for this season, they planted grass on vacant land to create a parking lot. They also built a shade “barn” adjacent to it where visitors can rest out of the sun.

In addition, the farm increased its liability insurance to cover the public visitors – something that McCoy says is important to protect the family farming business.

The Hills have split the chores, with David, Michael and his younger brother Kyle, continuing with the commercial production side. Lisa and daughter-in-law Brooke Hill oversee the U-pick and accompanying promotions.

During the weekend, the entire family helps greet visitors.

Having family members or employees who are outgoing and know marketing can help with a U-pick’s success, McCoy says.

“If you’re not a people person or can’t find a people person to represent your farm, then this is probably not a market sector for your farm to get into,” he says.

Another consideration, McCoy says, is what type of impact having hundreds of visitors wandering around will have on your production.

“If you have 200-300 people out over the weekend, that could cause a little damage to your fields,” he says.

As part of personal introductions, one of the Hills gives a brief history of the farm. He or she then asks visitors to walk down the row middles and not cut between bushes to protect the plants and irrigation systems.


Inexpensive marketing options

Brooke, who used to be a marketer for an Orlando-area hospital, taps into social media for much of the operation’s free or low-cost marketing.

Southern Hill Farms has its own website, Facebook page, blog and Twitter account as well as a weekly seasonal e-newsletter to keep potential visitors up to date on the latest happenings.

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