Family-Owned Orchards Rely on Each Other

Orchard farmers depend on family to keep business alive.

There are many challenges involved in running a family orchard. But while change can be difficult, local fruit growers say they rely on the foundation created by their ancestors to move the business forward.

Ed Weaver is the third generation of his family to work as a fruit grower.

"My great-grandfather was a fruit grower in Delaware, so I guess you could say it is in our blood," he said via email.

"My grandfather purchased the property in 1931," he said of land that became Weaver's Orchard Inc. in Robeson Township.

Today, Weaver is president of the family business he owns with his wife, Anne.

Their son Justin works as a production manager and lives on the family property with his wife and their three children.

"We enjoy growing the fruit and providing fresh wholesome produce to our customers," Weaver said. "We have developed a loyal customer base, and it is a joy to interact with (customers)."

Weaver's sells produce, baked goods, and dairy and deli products.

The orchard also offers a variety of activities for families such as pick-your-own crops, festivals, school tours, hayrides and bonfires.

"My grandparents were outstanding role models in how to work together as a family and appreciate each person for the skills they have," Weaver said.

A fruit grower's biggest challenge typically is the weather, he said.

"Next is pests and diseases," he said.

Growers constantly battle critters, including the brown marmorated stink bug that can damage fruit trees.

The most frustrating challenge for the family business, however, involves government regulations, he said.

"While I recognize the need for government standards, the more involved government is in our business, the greater the cost to the consumer," he said.

Making it fun

Rewards of the family business include growing healthy food, meeting satisfied customers and creating a fun work environment.

Josh Smith, outside sales and marketing director for Frecon Farms in Boyertown, married into the Frecon family, which entered the orchard business in the mid-1940s.

"I married the farmer's daughter," he said of his wife, Jennifer.

The key to keeping new generations interested in the family farm includes developing new products, such as Frecon's line of hard cider, that helps grow the business, Smith said.

"Change is always kind of stressful, but I think that everyone's kind of filling their role," he said.

Love your work

From the driver's seat of his Jeep, George Scholl can look out over the rolling hills where he and his wife, Faith, planted fruit trees 30 years ago.

They're still at it today.

"There must be a financial opportunity and a love of the work," said Scholl, owner of Scholl Orchards, which they run with help from their children Jake, Ben, Martha and Emily.

Over time, their orchards grew to include pears, apples, peaches, cherries, plums and vegetables that nearly surround the couples' home on 45 acres in Albany Township.

The spread is an extension of an orchard in Bethlehem started in 1930 by George's great uncle and aunt, Harry, an egg farmer and rural mail carrier, and Mary Nonnemaker.

Scholl's parents, Reginald and June Scholl, moved to the Bethlehem property in 1948 and began selling fruit at a market stand on Center Street.

"My father was a steelworker, but he enjoyed working on the farm," he said, adding that the farm wasn't their only source of income. "I was raised on a small farm but I also worked for an insurance company in Reading."

Jake's wife, Jessica, and Ben's wife, Sophia, also help at the market, where sales are good.

"I feel like people are really starting to grasp the 'buy-fresh, buy-local' concept," Sophia said.
The couple has two grandchildren, Oliver, 2, and Sadie, 3.

"We all work together and try to keep this train rolling," Scholl said.

Being successful requires farmers to be part scientist, marketing specialist and construction worker.

Orchard farmers face a variety of challenges including growing government regulations; diseases such as peach leaf curl, a fungus that can cause crop loss; and poor weather conditions that can damage crops.

To discuss those and other orchard problems and practices, the Scholls hosted a recent Orchard Twilight Meeting.

Roughly 80 area fruit growers attended the event, part of a Penn State Extension series held across the state for farmers to learn the latest industry information.

Cooperation and camaraderie among orchard folks is essential, Scholl said. He hopes more young farmers will continue the legacy their ancestors started.

"Family farms are a dying thing," he said.

For the original story, click here.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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