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					Apples, Apples, Everywhere:
How, when, and where does informal learning take place at a pick-your-own fruit

A favorite summer and autumn activity of my family’s is picking our own fruit from
one of the many local farms in northwestern Rhode Island. In fact, we tend to get
“fruit-crazy” at this time of the year - we’ll pick blueberries one day, raspberries the
next and maybe even peaches later that same day. The pick your own fruit
orchards and farms are plentiful in our geographic location and provide access to
fresh food at a good price. So when on this past Sunday the day started out warm
and sunny, my husband and I bundled our children (Jackson, 5, and Clara, 3) into the
car and made our way to one of the many apple-picking farms in “Apple Valley”.
What are the potentials for informal learning when you’re setting out to pick fruit?
Maybe as many ways as there are trees in the orchard, if you care to seek them out.

Food, Farming and Community
Understanding where your food comes from sounds simple and is so important.
Food is, after all, a biological necessity and something that goes directly into our
bodies to impact our health and quality of life. But with the shift in the American
experience that has led to super-markets and extremely long distance foods,
knowing where your food comes from and participating in your own local food
system becomes more of a challenge. Pick your own orchards are one example of
seasonal community-based agriculture systems that allow each visitor to have a
direct hand in their food system while also raising awareness that food grown
locally will lead to better and cheaper food (fresh food without preservatives tastes
better, and without added costs from handlers and shippers or fluctuating
petroleum-based transportation costs is less expensive). Local food also helps
support the local economy, builds community purpose in preserving land to fill the
local food growing requirements, and is less vulnerable to being “cut off” by
transportation restrictions such as oil shortages, or something as sinister as
terrorist attacks. Providing the pick your own experience to people of any age is a
simple way to raise awareness of and join in discussion of these important issues,
and, importantly for children, helps to start young people down a path of
responsible food selection and purchase. Participating in the actual physical
process of picking the fruit that will be eaten with dinner that night, or later in the
week, allows visitors to see these locally-based interactions occurring naturally and
should provide material for discussion between adults or between children and
adults on the reasons to support local food systems.

Colors, Size and Numbers
In a location such as the pick your own fruit orchard, small children are often
granted special one-on-one time with their care-givers (such as parents,
aunts/uncles or grandparents) away from the bustle of the household activities and
everyday chores. Family units can utilize this time to discuss such things as
different sizes, shapes and colors. Comprehending verbal communication such as
“only pick the red apples if you want them to be sweet” and “the bigger apples are
often juicier” allow the children to process these communications and then act upon
them. With the added benefit of being able to see the bright colors of the apples,
watch the heavy branches laden with shapely fruit fall down, smell the apples that
have already fallen and opened up, hear the buzzing of the bees that come to sample
their pungent juice, and finally taste that first “sample” apple, these activities all
arouse associative thoughts and will hopefully trigger fond memories of locally
grown and healthy food for years to come.

For older children, exercises in measurement and currency are also ideal at a pick
your own fruit orchard. Figuring out the weights of a half-peck, peck, half-bushel
and bushel of apples at the farm stand allows young people to practice their
mathematical skills. These locations are often cash-only and encourage additional
mathematical problem solving to figure out both the cost of the fruit being
purchased by its weight and how much change will be given back for cash
transactions (e.g., deciding on what cash will be given back for certain units of US
currency, $10 vs. $20 vs. $50).

Additionally, pick your own fruit orchards can provide direct interactions with
small-business owners - farmers making a living off their land - and are a window
to possible future job opportunities. Becoming friendly with farmers also helps
foster relationships in the local community.

These experiences in the fruit orchard can lead to shared projects that can be
expanded upon at home or in a classroom. The process of making applesauce from
the fresh-picked apples teaches cooking techniques focusing on units of
measurement for younger children, and for older children, leads to studying optimal
temperatures to break down the pectin, the soluble dietary fiber in apples, to
produce juice from the whole fruit. Fun crafts for younger children such as making
apple block print designs from a halved apple, or painting apple shapes on paper can
reinforce the earlier topics of color, size and shape. We did both of these activities
with our children after the fruit-picking adventure. Our refrigerator now holds both
the example of the applesauce we’ve been eating all week (inside a large container,
keeping nice and cold) and the apple paintings displayed on the refrigerator door
for all the family to see (beautiful red and green prints). We hope it creates
emotionally associative memories that will trigger knowledge across all these topics
in the years to come. At the very least, our son Jackson went to kindergarten the
next day and explained to his good friend Finn at snack time when Finn asked what
Jackson’s snack was that it was “Applesauce mommy made from the apples I picked
yesterday. It was fun picking apples from the trees.” I like to think that maybe Finn
will find it fun too, and learn a little about size or color or even units of
measurements with his parents when he makes his way to one of the many pick
your own fruit orchards in “Apple Valley”.

-Kimberly Arcand

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