A flair for selling fruit
Young growers bring new energy to eastern orchards.
Left: Sidney Kuhn, 32, owns the direct marketing arm of Kuhn Orchards. Right: David Wenk and uncle carry on the family farm that dates to 1796.
Sidney Kuhn and Ben Wenk are neighbors, as the crow flies, but they’re 15 miles apart on the winding mountain roads of Adams County, Pennsylvania. They didn’t know each other as kids—five years difference in age is huge when you’re young. They met as founding members of the Young Grower Alliance in 2005.
Kuhn worked on building membership in that new organization—developing an e-mail list of more than 100—and later became chair, a position Wenk took over last year. In that group, the emerging new generation—the scions of eastern fruit farmers in the Mid-Atlantic states—come together to form bonds like their parents formed in earlier years.
Without comparing notes or planning it, Wenk and Kuhn have taken parallel paths into similar niches on their family fruit farms. They’re both marketing fruits and vegetables at upscale farmers’ markets in the big eastern cities, where Asian pears can sell for $6 each and Honeycrisp apples bring $2.69 a pound. It was the lure of selling in these markets that convinced them there was a wonderful future in being a fruit farmer.
To get those good prices, both Wenk and Kuhn rise around 4 a.m., pack trucks, drive two hours or more, set up tents and displays, meet customers, explain how they grow what they grow and why, sample products, make sales for four hours—then pack up what’s left and drive back home—to get ready to do it again the next day.
Kuhn, working with others she hires, puts Kuhn Orchards’s produce into ten farmers’ markets each week. Wenk does seven.
Kuhn, who is 32, is now the sole owner of the farmers’ market arm of Kuhn Orchards and is buying into the Cashtown, Pennsylvania, fruit farm itself. Wenk, 27, is partnering with his father, Dave, and uncle, John, in Three Springs Fruit Farm near Aspers, Pennsylvania, and he, too, is much ado about marketing.
Both Wenk and Kuhn are continuing to take their farms in a transition from producing mostly apples for processing into the more lucrative world of marketing fresh fruit to affluent customers. That transition, which has been in the making for some years, is getting new energy from the new generation.