Cashing in on the interest in U-pick farming

I spent a couple hours earlier this month at a U-pick raspberry operation just outside of Saskatoon.

I certainly didn’t earn any performance bonuses, considering that I had by far the lightest pail among my companions, but it was still an enjoyable way to spend a beautiful August morning.

As I hunted and gathered my way down the rows (well, just gathered, technically speaking), I marvelled at how ingenious it is to convince consumers to pay for the privilege of doing a lot of the work — kind of like getting shoppers in supermarkets to bag their own groceries.

The concept even made it into a story on page 56 of this week’s issue about a Manitoba farm that has dedicated half an acre to a flower business. Some of the operation’s customers actually drive out to the farm, where they are handed a pair of flower snips and an enamel pitcher and pointed in the right direction.

This all got me wondering what other aspects of agriculture could take advantage of this business model.

And then it hit me — U-pick wheat farms.

I’m not exactly sure why no one has ever thought of this before. Think of the reduced overhead — no swathers, combines, grain carts or storage bins.

You would just have to buy a good supply of scythes and baskets for carrying the cut grain.

A bit of work would be required to divide the fields into a manageable grid by pounding stakes and connecting them with baler twine, but wouldn’t that be better than firing up the combines? Customers would then be assigned as many squares as they were willing to pay for, handed a scythe and a basket and sent on their way.

U-pick wheat farms could also practise some good old-fashioned entrepreneurial up-selling by offering customers the opportunity to mill their own flour.

The wheat that they had just cut could be placed in an old-timey mill that would be operated by human power instead of water or oxen. For an extra fee, customers would be hitched to the mill and allowed to walk in a circle as the stones ground wheat kernels into the makings of a tasty loaf of bread.

For even more money, the farm’s patrons could be allowed to cut wood, build a fire in a wood stove and bake their bread right there on the spot.

The possibilities, as they say, are endless.

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