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Ben, 26, carries on the transition from growing fruit for processing to growing fruit for retail sales

Ben, 26, carries on the transition from growing fruit for processing to growing fruit for retail sales

Richard Lehnert

What Ben Wenk is building on has been a long time in the making.    

His father, Dave, came back to the family business in Aspers, Pennsylvania, in 1980 with a degree in horticulture from Penn State.  His cousin John followed in 1983, forming a partnership with Dave and John’s father, Donald. Then came years of expansion in the fruit business and a gradual transition from growing apples and tart ­cherries for processing to fresh market and then to retail.

Ben chose to pursue retail marketing for Three Springs, adding vegetables and small fruit and berries to their crop diversity. They grow Saturn donut peaches, a few acres of pears, 14 varieties of sweet cherries, some tart cherries for fresh market as well as to sell to Knouse Foods for processing, and about 50 acres of peaches. They want peaches to start early, about July 4, and carry on through the big Labor Day weekend when good varieties like Gala and Honeycrisp apples join them on stream.
“There’s nothing like peaches,” Dave says. “Ben’s markets love peaches. As soon as peaches get rolling, the markets come alive.”

They also sell apple cider and a variety of value-added products like applesauce, canned peaches, apple and pear butters, all made for them from their own crops.
“This retail business is cool,” Dave said. “You’re erasing three middlemen between you and the final customer, and taking all the dollars they got.” Direct marketing, he says, is what has drawn the younger generation of Mid-Atlantic growers back to the farms.

Ben is able to sell about a quarter of the farm’s production. Dave and John carry on a lively wholesale business, mainly selling wholesale to Mennonite and Amish marketers in eastern Pennsylvania.