FarmLedePicAs you’re out with the family getting an eyeful of color from the changing foliage this fall, it’s hard to resist stopping to pick your own apples at some of the farms you may pass. The farm experience these days is much more—many going out of the way to make sure your kids have a bounty of choices to discover. But it shouldn’t cost a huge bundle of green for the experience.

Fruit (and Veggies) for Thought

You’ve just pulled up to the farm, only to realize you’re too late for your chance to pick your favorite Honeycrisp apples. Try not to fret. Grab a red wagon (many farms will ask for a refundable deposit– returned when you return the wagon), and head out to see what else is growing.  At Weeds Farm in New York, for instance, they are clear about options available from week to week. And multiple varieties of fruit beyond HayRidesjust apples, including late pears, berries, and grapes offer alternatives. Peppers (sweet or spicy), squash, pumpkins are vegetable options often available as well. And if all else fails, during part of the season, wildflowers are often ready to clip into a pail and take from farm to table.

Hay is For Horses (And Kids)

“Free Hay Rides” is the sign we hope to see after spending some time picking in the fields. If you’ve hit a farm where the price tag seems hefty for a hayride, it probably is. Save your money and move on, as they’re typically not long enough to make the price worth it. But if it’s free, hop on the wagon, and ride it around. Some may let you off at other parts of the farm—in particular, near their corn mazes.

CornMazeA-Mazing Corn

Here’s an area where you will often be asked to spend a little extra, and depending on the size of the maze and the size of your kids, a little could go a long way. Some mazes are so complicated that you may have to head for the high points or corners to regain perspective. The Cherry Crest Adventure Farm in Pennsylvania boasts its five-acre maze with “more than 2.5 miles of paths, bridges and clues.” They also have a “maze master”, should you really end up in the weeds. We lost our kids—I mean they got lost –in a maze for about 45-minutes. Other parents said that should have been worth the $3-dollar admission alone–aw shucks.

What a Zoo

Petting zoos with animals ranging from pigs to goats, chickens to peacocks are also an easy and free way to let your kids spend time on the farm.  Even if the farm is primarily apples, a few pigs and a few goats later, and the kids realize that fallen apples make for good tasty treats for curious animals.  Again, this part of the experience should be free—although sometimes they’ll have small feed machines in the areas which cost anywhere from 25-50 cents for a handful.

PiesThe Add-Ons

If peach shortcake, brownie sundaes, fried ice cream, fried Oreos, apple pie a la mode, fudge, caramel, candy and chocolate covered apples—if any of these tickle your taste buds, well they’re all foods we’ve experienced out on the apple picking farms. It’s a slice of the country fair that’s maneuvered itself into the standard farm experience. And you can often buy homemade products in the farm’s “gift shop”—yes, many have gift shops of sorts.  Some smaller ticket items that keep the kids interested also include sand bottle art, face painting and temporary tattoos. But beware, a dollar here, a fiver-there, and your day may end up being more expensive than anticipated – those little items add up quickly.

In the prime of the season be prepared for long lines at the farms that offer the full-fare. You may need to divide and conquer—one parent or guardian paying for farm booty while the other waits in lines for other food or gift shop items. But while you’re stuck standing there many farms now have either live music (think bands, dance groups) or DJ’s spinning selections appropriate for down on the farm.  They’re thinking of everything, plus the apples.