family background / Alicia grew up in Lower Saxony, Germany, and attended Geisenheim University before transferring to Cornell University to pursue her undergraduate degree in plant sciences. She’s co-owner of the family’s orchards in Wolcott and Sodus, New York, and is the daughter of Anette and Robert Abendroth

grower/Wolcott, New York
crops/Apples, cherries, peaches
business/Abendroth Apple Ridge Orchard

How did you get your start?
Even though our orchard is in upstate New York, I grew up in Germany because my mother is German and my father is American.

We started farming in Germany when I was small and moved to New York about seven years ago.

My role in the farm is split between working the farm and the office — from driving tractor to all of the books in the office. It seems like my whole life revolves around producing fruit and doing it better.

Why did you pursue farming?
I didn’t think of going into agriculture until my family made the switch into fruit farming.

My parents wanted to be fruit farmers because they believed in the perennial nature of the crop, so as a family we headed in that direction. It just made sense for me to join them. When I was in high school in Germany, I chose to study horticulture and was sent to attend university courses.

I started to get interested in soil science, too — a topic I never thought I’d be interested in. When my family moved to the U.S., I took an opportunity to transfer to Cornell University, which is just over an hour from our farm.

From there, I was able to study with some amazing professors and further my fruit production career. Since then, I’ve moved toward the business side of the farm and I’m integrating that with my geeky horticulture jobs.

What things have you been learning since college?
One thing that I think is amazing about working in tree fruit is that it’s a global industry. Everyone does it a little different, even though the principles are the same.

The horticulture behind growing a tree really doesn’t change, but several factors do change from year to year. Each growing area presents different pressures for growers.

With my German background and upbringing, I’ve taken a lot of pleasure in trying to incorporate those lessons here in New York. I feel this state has so much potential, yet it’s not being fully tapped.

I learn so much by working with other people, so much that I’m traveling during the off seasons to other tree fruit regions in Chile, South Africa and, hopefully, to New Zealand to expand what I know.

What goals are you setting for that travel?
One of my recent goals has been to find people from other counties who are passionate about tree fruit to work at our farm. It’s a good thing to find ways to link cultures from other areas with our land and learn from each other. I hope we can funnel those ideas and experiences into our business.

What have you learned from working abroad?
Growers outside of the U.S. don’t have as many privileges as we do here. We’re very fortunate to have subsidy programs, good crop insurance for losses, access to water and reliable transport networks.

We have several tools here that growers can use that growers abroad simply do not have. Knowing what the challenges are outside the U.S. has given me a greater sense of perspective, a positive perspective, about what we do on our own farm.

I also believe the farms in other countries, like in South Africa or Chile, face so many challenges. They fight for every success. Sometimes that pressure creates a need for innovation that we may take for granted.

What advice do you have for other young growers?
After graduating from college, I found out quickly that I had to work on farm projects with a longer-term process in mind.

Now I’m thinking three to four years in advance about things that carry real business and monetary consequences for the farm.

Even though the farm works as a long-term commitment, there’s so much day-to-day work that I have to accomplish, I need to be thinking quick every day.

If you enjoy problem solving, then farming is the right thing for you, because there’s always another crisis just around the other door.

The old ways of farming are important, however, where you’ll make gains by bringing in new ideas to the industry. Bring in that energy and you’ll find a niche that way.

—TJ Mullinax