Anyone who has worked a manual labor job characterized by tedious and repetitive tasks must be baffled by the hordes of people who voluntarily flock to apple orchards every fall to willingly, eagerly, pick fruit.
Apple picking makes perfect sense on paper: It’s a great way to spend a fall afternoon, orchards are relatively accessible in many parts of the country, you look good on Instagram doing it, and you can turn all those apples into a homemade apple pie. Just don’t think too hard about it, because if you do, you’ll realize a few unsettling truths.
First, apple picking isn’t even the twelfth best way to spend a fall afternoon, and it’s actually quite expensive for what you’re getting if you’re actually after the fruit. And while it might look good on the ‘gram, it also looks good on the ‘gram of countless other people (and no, your “apple a day” caption isn’t unique). Finally, there’s no way you’re actually baking an apple pie.
Apple picking is a terrible way to experience a destination
Whatever I may think about apple picking, no one can dictate how to spend your free time. Whether you’re traveling or lounging around at home, if you feel like filling a few apple baskets, go for it. If you’re traveling, however, and your goal is to have a memorable fall experience in a new destination, then there are much better options than paying to perform manual labor.
Apple picking is pretty much the same everywhere you go. If you’ve done it once, you’ve done it a thousand times. Other than the variety of apples, the experience won’t be markedly different between Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Washington (though even the varieties can be the same from coast to coast). If you’re looking for a fall experience that gets you outdoors and allows you to capture the essence of what makes a destination special, almost anything is better than picking apples.
You don’t have to think too far outside the box here. Even something simple like going for a short hike is a better way to explore a destination while taking advantage of the fall scenery. Visit a farmer’s market, pick up some local produce, and have a picnic in the park. Or, if you’re into history, a ghost tour can be a great way to spend a spooky fall evening, explore a new city, and hear some chilling local legends.
There’s no objective
Like it or not, we live in a goal-oriented society. We have deadlines to meet, tangible results to produce, and when we reflect on an experience, we want to feel like we accomplished something. That’s what makes apple picking such a head-scratcher. Not all fun activities need a goal, of course, but there’s usually a clearly-defined endpoint — an objective, however seemingly inconsequential.
When you go leaf peeping, the goal is to see fall in all its splendor. When you enter a hay or corn maze, the goal, ironically, is to get out. The primary goal of apple picking (at least for those who say it isn’t solely for the photoshoot) is entirely overshadowed by aimless manual labor. Sure, you want to fill your basket with apples. Sure, you want to pick the best ones. But if the goal is a basket of freshly picked apples, the aforementioned farmers market would be a better bet than hours of the sweat-inducing work of tiptoeing around fallen rotten fruit and lugging a heavy basket through a field.
Besides, even if the goal is a bunch of hand-picked apples, what are you going to do with that much fruit?
Let’s be honest, you’re not baking an apple pie
Take a random selection of people and ask them what they plan to do with their excess number of apples and you’re likely to hear one phrase over and over: “I’m gonna bake an apple pie.” But how many of these apple pickers are even capable of baking a pie, let alone have the time and motivation to actually do so?
The rest will bring their bounty home (a bushel, a common picking measurement, is about 50 pounds, for reference, or about 125 apples), plop bags of apples onto the kitchen counter, and enjoy a fleeting moment of jubilation and delusion as they consider all the delicious desserts they fully intend to bake. They’ll grab an apple and take a bite. Just a taste of what’s to come. After all, they deserve it.
Fast-forward a week. The apples are still on the counter, now soft with spots of brown. You really should bake that pie, but it’d take all afternoon and you’ve got a pumpkin in desperate need of carving. Throwing the apples away would be a shame. A waste. It’d be like you never picked them at all. But at this point, wouldn’t it be better to buy a pie from the local farmstand? A pie that costs half the price of your apple-picking odyssey, and tastes twice as good as anything you could bake yourself? Yes, it would.
You dump the apples in the trash, shed a tear, and think to yourself, “there’s always next year.”