Last Saturday, I took a trip to Fifers Orchard. I was thoroughly impressed at the size of their production. I had been previously under the impression that Fifers was a small little produce stand with only a couple acres of land. I very much enjoyed seeing the different types of crops they grew and I was very surprised to learn that their were many different types of one specific crop, such as orange, green, and purple cauliflower. Being able to look at the type of distribution center, I was so excited to see how things worked within the company. Speaking to the family members was also extremely interesting because I never realized how important it was that each person had their own specific job and made sure that their job was completed with great competence. I was also interested in the idea that you were able to buy not only fruits and vegetables, but other types of homemade products such as jams, pies, and seasonings. Seeing this type of production system was extremely important to my understanding about how family farms are run and to see them work cohesively and produce the best products for their consumers.
This past Saturday, we had a great opportunity to tour a huge family-owned orchard named Fifer Orchard in Camden Wyoming, DE. With about 2,800 acres of farmland, you can only imagine how much time, energy, money, and manpower goes into running this orchard. Luckily for the Fifer family, it has been in the family for 4 generations. Bobby Fifer said he learned to farm at a very young age. He started us off with a tour to some of their fields to show us different irrigation systems like center pivot and drip irrigation, which is used for crops like strawberries with a raised bed. I thought it was interesting they had trial crops like cauliflower because there is a ready market for it.
They grow and watch the crop for about 3 years to see if it is worth it. Like cauliflower, kale was also a trial crop that needs to be hand-picked. It is very hard to find people that want to do labor that intensive, so Fifer Orchard participates in an awesome program called H2A that gives nonimmigrant foreigners, who are willing to work, the opportunity to work for them. They get a work visa and Fifer provides transportation and housing for them to work for a period of time hand-picking the crops. Without hand labor, Bobby said they would not be in business. A big challenge they see in the future is being able to use robotics for harvesting every crop instead of hand-picking, but is it possible to pick strawberries or pumpkins with a machine? With them being in business for so long and technology constantly improving I have no doubt they will continue to thrive for many more generations regardless of the constantly changing regulations and market.
Fifer Orchards are selling themselves short. Growing more crops than I can count on my hands and feet, Fifer’s farm operations include much more than just peach and apple trees. I was surprised to learn that sweet corn, tomatoes, and strawberries are Fifer’s biggest cash crops, while their sweet corn has been known to make its way west of the Mississippi.
I was fortunate enough to pick 4th generation farmer Bobby Fifer’s brain concerning his apple orchards. While the Honey Crisp variety of apple is currently Fifer’s best seller, they are in the process of taking out all of their Honey Crisp apple trees. Bobby explained that Honey Crisp is better adapted to cooler climates such as New York state and Minnesota; unfortunately these thin skinned delicious apples don’t thrive in Delaware’s increasingly warmer climate.
Another facet of the farm that interested me was the strawberry field. Delaware seems to have a very short growing season for strawberries, most folks are lucky to get a local strawberry after May. Fifer’s is certainly aware of this fact which is why they take advantage of black plastic and raised beds. I was shocked to learn the strawberry crop had already been planted and would be able to survive the winter months. The advantage of the early planting and the black plastic is that once spring brings forth warmer temperatures, the strawberry crop will already be well established. The black plastic helps to maximize the potential sunlight and warm the soil as quick and early as possible.
On the 23rd of September, we went to have a tour of Fifer Orchards located in Camden-Wyoming, Delaware. This +2,500 acre farm is a fourth generation family run farm. Bobby Fifer gave us a tour of the farm along with going out in the fields to look at the different types of irrigation systems they have in the fields ( center pivot irrigation and drip irrigation) As well as being showed the fields and where the fruit and produce was being grown we got a chance to look in the packaging and distribution center and how each of the items is processed to enter our local stores and businesses. One extremely interesting thing that I found out while on the farm was that the orchard ships all up and down the east coast and east of the Mississippi River! This is beyond incredible especially for us being such a small state. Another thing that I found to be interesting was that there is a program called the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) this is where the farm puts together pre-paid boxes of produce and have drop-off locations for families to pick up produce. This is more effective that farmers market because there is little to no product waste. Whereas at farmers markets you can run out of produce and make the customer upset or you can bring to much of a certain product and then have leftovers which would have to be thrown away. Fifer’s Orchard always has events and activities going on each weekend. This week was the kick off to their fall fest and there were so many games for kids and vendors for shopping. They also had their shop open which had the BEST Apple CIder Slushies! This was by far one of my favorite field trips and will definitely be visiting them soon again