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Apple picking will look different this year.

Farms and orchards running pick-your-own operations are by now familiar with a set of health and safety guidelines released by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture in June.

Following the state rules meant months of planning, and coming up with creative solutions — like asking apple pickers to drive right up to the trees they’re going to pick from.

General safety guidelines are similar to rules adopted by businesses across Vermont. Farms and orchards will promote masking and social distancing, encourage non-cash transactions, limit occupancy, offer curbside pickup, and indicate customer flow directions.

And don’t try to taste the treats — eating on-site is prohibited under state rules.

“Which is really hard for pick-your-own, because that’s sort of a standard pick-your-own thing is to go out and eat apples in the orchard,” said Mariah Coles, an owner of Shelburne Orchards.

Cars should be ready for some gentle off-roading, Coles said.

“We’re having people drive all the way out to the pick-your-own section and drive right into the rows with their car and then get out and pick apples right where their car is parked,” Coles said.

State health authorities aren’t requiring customers wear masks to pick-their-own, but rather it’s up to the individual farms to require customers and employees to wear cloth face coverings. Three orchards asked for this article said they were enforcing universal mask wearing.

State guidelines require picking containers must either be clean — brought and solely used by customers, disposable containers provided by the farms, or reusable containers that employees thoroughly clean and disinfect before each use.

“We have special picking bags. We send them out in the orchard with our bags. And I discourage anybody from using their own bags because we don’t want to handle them on the inside,” Boyer said. “We’ve put plexiglass in front of us and we only allow a certain amount of people in the orchard building.”

Sneeze guards are a requirement of all retail stations as outlined in the “Pick-Your-Own Restart Plan.” With all the requirements, orchard operators say they’re worried about a dip in business during a usually popular time.

“I was worried whether we’d have the customers,” Boyer said.

State authorities encourage cashless or touchless payment methods to cut down on unnecessary touchpoints.

“Credit cards and electronic transactions are more preferred,” said Jessie Yates of Yates Family Orchard in Hinesburg.

Adjusting to numerous health and safety practices has posed challenges to local farms and orchards as well as brought about apprehension.

“Our orchard has really kind of taken a look at all the touch points that we normally have and are really trying to minimize that for staff as well as customers,” says Yates. “It’s always in the back of our mind that, you know, keeping ourselves safe. That in turn, hopefully keeps our customers safe, too.”

Aidan Seipke, a Community News Service video journalist, contributed to this report.

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