The next generation
Future fruit growers link up for peer support.
Members of the Young Growers Alliance take tours to successful orchards and farm markets. From left, they are Chris and Kiona Black, Catoctin Mountain Orchard, Thurmont, Maryland; Julie and Phil Bolyard, Orr’s Farm Market, Martinsburg, West Virginia; Katie Ellis, Penn State Cooperative Extension, Gettysburg; Andrew Schwalm, Pennsylvania; Jim Schupp, Penn State Fruit Research & Extension Center, Biglerville; Mike Flinchbaugh, Flinchbaugh’s Orchard and Farm Market, York, Pennsylvania; Jim Remcheck, Penn State Cooperative Extension, Gettysburg; Rusty Lamb, Kuhn Orchards, Cashtown, Pennsylvania; Ivan Fisher, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; Justin Weaver, Weaver’s Orchard, Morgantown, Pennsylvania; and Diana Erb, Brook Lawn Farm, Lancaster County.
There’s always a next generation waiting in the wings to take over. But “the next generation” is not a single entity. It is made up of independent individuals.
Sometimes, however, there seems to be a synchrony, as like-aged individuals share similar values and move together creating a wave. These generational waves get names, like Baby Boomers, Generation X, and the Millennials.
About five years ago, a group of young fruit growers in the Mid-Atlantic region came together to form the Young Grower Alliance. It was made up of young people aged 20- and 30-something who were, for the most part, scions of established fruit families who realized it was up to them to prepare to take over.
And it’s happening again, this time in New York State.
During the International Fruit Tree Association summer tour in western New York in early August, several young adults were sporting dark blue tee shirts with a monogrammed logo proclaiming their membership in the Future Fruit Growers of Lake Ontario. They are part of the first in what are to be three chapters of young fruit growers located in widely separated fruit areas of the state—the western area bordering southern Lake Ontario, the southeastern area in the Hudson River Valley, and the northeastern area in the valley around Lake Champlain.
It’s not clear where the basic idea of making a formal group came from, but in both New York and the Mid-Atlantic, the Extension services of the land-grant universities were there at the start and have provided ongoing support. The Young Grower Alliance became affiliated as a standing committee of the State Horticulture Association of Pennsylvania, and its activities are coordinated by Katie Ellis in the Adams County Extension office.
Mario Miranda Sazo, who provides expertise in cultural practices as part of the four-person Lake Ontario Fruit Program Extension team serving growers in five counties, decided to try to pull young growers in the area into a formal group. What most have in common is a place on a fruit farm that will likely evolve into management and ownership. He is more interested in the educational needs of these young people than in the social club aspects.
“Cooperation among New York fruit growers is critical if they are to remain competitive in a global economy,” he said. “These young people are entering a high-cost, risky business in which they need to do everything virtually perfectly to succeed.
“This new generation of growers is looking to connect with each other and learn from more experienced growers when making decisions,” he added.
“While we are currently recruiting young fruit growers at the beginning of their careers, we are also looking for experienced fruit growers who can relate as mentors to the less experienced ones.”
Danielle Teeple is a spark plug in the Future Fruit Growers of Lake Ontario, working on communications. She coordinated the tee shirts, among other tasks.
Danielle and her husband, Frank, with two children under age 2, are part of Teeple Farms, Wolcott, New York, which is comprised of 400 acres, mostly apples, owned by John and Russ Teeple. Frank is Russ’s son. John is the more widely known Teeple, recently ending his term as chair of the U.S. Apple Association.
Danielle said the young fruit growers are a close-knit group. “Ninety percent of us grew up on fruit farms. All of us have an acquaintanceship or friendship that has developed over the years. We went away to college, and we came back to the farm.”
Now, these childhood associations are being transformed into professional relationships.
So far, Danielle said, about 35 young growers have shown enough interest to order a tee shirt, but she thinks membership will start to increase after they’ve finished harvesting the apple crop. The group has meetings monthly, and about 20 attend.
The group developed bylaws in June, but no formal officers were elected. Meetings are chaired on a rotating basis by committee chairs. Miranda Sazo obtained a grant from the Northeast Center for Risk Management Education to fund activities for the first year.
In the application, he wrote: “Participants in this project will learn ways to reduce financial risks as this next generation accepts more management responsibility, transitions to new production systems, and adopts new technologies. Up to ten workshops and field activities will use a format of a half day of business or labor management topics and a half day of field production topics.”
In late July, members volunteered to host visitors on buses during the IFTA tour and in August, they conducted a technical orchard tour on disease and pest identification. They have not held meetings during fall harvest.