British summers are forever associated with sunburn, hosepipe bans and Bank Holiday traffic queues. But there’s one seasonal tradition from our childhoods making a welcome return; the family trip to a pick-your-own (PYO) fruit farm.
It’s thought the first pick-your-own excursions took place when market traders in Victorian London invited customers on country outings to their fields to pick the produce and share a home-cooked meal. The birth of the modern PYO industry is credited to the late Ted Moult. Nowadays most people remember him for appearing in double-glazing adverts but, in the early 1960s, Ted was an innovator, starting a PYO strawberry business on his farm in Derbyshire and making a point of personally greeting every visitor as they arrived. That’s what I call service! As a footnote to all that, years later Ted worked with my dad, Joe, on the BBC rural affairs programmes In The Country and The Country Game.
As the growing and harvesting of arable crops, flowers, fruit and vegetables becomes hi-tech and computerised, the humble pick-your-own is a throwback to a simpler era of farming. PYO is also a less expensive way for farmers to grow fruit without the outlay for seasonal workers in the field or paying for specialised machinery to be brought in.
Changing fashions in food and the ease with which growers can switch to pick-your-own means that it’s hard to quantify the number of PYO farms in the UK or how much they contribute to the farming economy. But thanks to Mary Berry and co renewing our interest in baking, more awareness of healthy eating and even the popularity of smoothies, PYO is on the up again. Nationwide shop sales of berries have broken the £1bn barrier, overtaking apples and bananas, making up a fifth of total fruit consumption in the UK.
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