Newswise — ITHACA, N.Y. – Even in the coronavirus era, New York’s pick-your-own farms are flourishing. 

“After months of enduring lockdowns, especially in New York, the pick-your-own berry farms around the state are booming this year,” said Marvin Pritts, professor of horticulture. “Most of the pick-your-own farms are using our Cornell University-developed guidelines that are very broad – they’re having an impact.”

The “Best Management Practices for U-Pick Farms During the COVID-19 Pandemic” guidebook offers detail on adjusting farm practices to reduce risk, and provides clarity on getting consumers safely through the farm and keeping farm employees healthy.

“Consumers are cooperating,” said Anu Rangarajan, director of Cornell’s Small Farms Program. “The pick-your-own farm customers are using masks and following rules, washing hands and using hand sanitizer. People are confident about being on these farms.”

The guidebook was prepared by Rangarajan; Pritts; Elizabeth Bihn, senior extension associate in food science; Laura McDermott, team leader, fruit and vegetable production, Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE); Esther Kibbe, berry production specialist, Western New York CCE; and Julie Suarez, associate dean for land-grant affairs in CALS.

“In the early spring, farmers were worried about the pick-your-own season,” McDermott said. The summer blueberry season is now underway, through August, and apple harvest – including pick-your-own – runs from late August through the fall.

“As I drive around eastern New York, I’m hearing from farmers that 100% of customers are wearing masks as they enter and exit the pick-your-own farms,” she said. “People have adopted these guides and there is very little pushback. Rules rule, and the customers are OK with it.”

CCE has worked exhaustively to keep farmers, farm employees and the public safe in each New York county.

One key factor for safety was an enormous push by New York’s Department of Agriculture and Markets – under New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s directive – to provide hand sanitizer to farms. Two statewide sanitizer distribution campaigns in the late spring were organized by Paul O’Connor, associate director of field operations for CCE.

Using six regional pick-up points as hubs for all 56 county extension offices, CCE has distributed 28,069 gallons of the state’s golden hand sanitizer, packaged by New York to combat price-gouging, plus 30,386 two-ounce bottles and 106,640 face coverings, according to CCE statistics. For agricultural businesses of all kinds, that distribution affected 46,755 agricultural employees throughout the state.

For additional information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.