People who run leading apple picking operations in Essex County say business is booming.
Andrew Thiessen, owner of Thiessen Apple Orchards in Leamington, said he's noticing crowds twice the size compared to last year.
"We think people are wanting to get out and spend some time out in the outdoors with their families and our farm is large enough where we can spread people out in a safe way," said Thiessen, estimating they will see 5,000 visitors this year.
Thiessen had to charge admission this year to cover an estimated $25,000 in extra costs, factoring in sanitizing, cleaning and extra signage needed due to the pandemic.
But he has also hired more staff this season than he would normally — 50 compared to the usual 35.
"It's been tough. I had been on unemployment for quite a while so it's great that they offered me a place that I feel safe to come into work every day," said Madison Hamm, a drama student who mans the admission gate, a position which didn't exist last year.
With a summer of curtailed activities, apple picking was considered to be a "safe" alternative, according to Mikayla Lorkovich who went with her date.
"We haven't been on many dates lately so we figured coming out somewhere that's actually safe, because it's all out in the open — would be safe to do during COVID," said Lorkovich.
People are required to wear masks in the candy shop, the area where they serve food and on the wagons. In outdoor areas where people can distance, however, masks aren't needed.
The operation had to close its hay loft and corn silo pit because it could cause a spread of COVID-19.
"We've expanded out candy corner to make things more spacious to go in and out of the candy corner," said Thiessen, whose operation also includes other activities such as a corn maze, mini golf and playstructures.
"We've set up socially-distanced lineups at our country kitchen and we've added another tractor and wagon ride to help spread people out on the wagon rides."
At Wagner Orchards and Estate Winery in Lakeshore, owner Harold Wagner estimates business has increased 25 per cent more than last year.
They are taking food orders through a window rather than letting people in a building — and Wagner estimates he has hired three extra people to handle COVID-related duties
We haven't been on many dates lately so we figured coming out somewhere that's actually safe, because it's all out in the open — would be safe to do during COVID. - Windsor resident Mikayla Lorkovich while apple-picking at a Leamington orchard
"The crop has been good and the weather has been good too," said Wagner, adding there's so much room outdoors in the orchards it's easy to social distance.
Wagner believes people are flocking to the orchards partly because they want to finally go somewhere — but he also believes they want to discover the bounty of the county.
"We produce everything from fish to fruit so if people are starting to figure that out and finding out where these things are, I think that accounts for some of our increase."