This week, we had a chance to speak with Ed Weaver, president of Weaver’s Orchard in Morgantown, PA, one of our main suppliers of apples (including Honeycrisp) and apple cider.
1. What is the story of how Weaver’s Orchard came to be?
I am the third generation here at Weaver’s. My great grandfather was a fruit grower in Delaware and my grandfather started Weaver’s Orchard in 1932. It was non-commercial at the start, and he just planted fruit trees and marketed them by the truckload in the city of Reading. It was called a “Huckster route,” which meant he was a type of peddler or hawker common in those days. He would set up on street corners and sell produce. Soon he started selling from the farm here, too, and began to increase retail sales at the farm.
I oversaw the market at Shillington [outside Reading] after high school. In 1985, the orchard went through a major expansion, which was a dream of mine, and began to carry a full line of produce throughout the year. Agricultural entertainment and educational opportunities for customers have expanded over the years, including school tours and cooking classes. My vision was to sell directly to the customer, especially with Pick-Your-Own and educational opportunities for customers.
2. What was it like to grow up on the orchard?
I enjoyed my childhood. It taught me a good work ethic. There were times I had to work when I did not necessarily want to. There was always plenty of time to enjoy the outdoors. Growing up near the forest gave me an appreciation of the outdoors. Area to roam is very enjoyable.
I enjoy the customer service side. I enjoyed this even while growing up.
I treasure memories of working alongside my grandparents, and now my grandchildren. I like to see that it’s come full circle.
3. When did you know that you wanted to be the one from your generation who would own and lead the orchard? What was this like?
Not until after working here for a few years, after school. I was not sure at first. As a teen, I did think, “what would it be like to be the manager?” I thought it would be nice to be the one sitting in the office. Now I think about how it would be nice to have a few days to be out picking apples! I enjoy the management part of the job, especially hiring people, because I get to look at their strengths. I’m not satisfied to stay where we’re at; I always want to push toward progress and try something new. I find this much more rewarding. It’s enabled us to branch out. It’s been a journey, and not every day is fun, but at the end it’s rewarding.
4. How many acres of apple trees do you currently have?
35, and over 30 varieties of apples.
5. Do you have a favorite apple variety that you are especially enjoying this year?
I do like the Honeycrisp. There’s another variety like it called Autumn Crisp. It will be a few more years until we expand that variety enough to bring it to a wholesale market for Wolff’s. About two more years. Right now it’s available through Pick-Your Own and the market.
I enjoy the different varieties as we go through the seasons. Even the older varieties. A Golden Delicious from the tree, Jonathan apples and Jon-a-Gold.
6. What kind of processes do you use as you cultivate the apple trees? Can you tell me a little bit about why you chose these processes?
One thing that’s interesting about the process is that there are changing trends of what people want. We need to order trees three years before planting, and then a tree has three to four years before it begins producing. That’s six years in advance of what customers want. Every grower faces this and choosing varieties is an interesting process.
Choosing the training system is another part of the process. As a grower, you can experiment with tree training methods–free standing root stock or dwarfing root stock that is trellised or supported. Currently, Weaver’s only plants dwarf trees, but there are still dozens of options to experiment with even within that.
7. What do you enjoy about the daily work?
What I enjoy is largely relational: working with employees, helping them reach their potential. We hear a lot of people saying that it’s a great place to work. I also enjoy when you reach that point of harvest and have a really good crop, and that’s relational again because I get to see customers enjoying it. I like to eat the fruits of the labor, but there’s something about seeing customers enjoy it too.
8. What keeps you going when the work is hard?
Making sure I have a little time off! Saying a few extra prayers. Asking God for help. Looking forward to what the result may be from the hard work and not dwelling on what’s happening in the present moment.
9. What are your plans for the apple orchard in the future?
There’s not too much room to expand on the present property, so most of our plans are in marketing. We ran a pilot program called Orchard2Office where people could have a fruit box delivered directly to their office, and we’re continuing that this winter.
We want the property here to be one people can come and enjoy, for weddings and events, including corporate events. This September, we’ll be working with a local restaurant called Emily’s Pub for a “Dinner at the Farm” event, where people can come eat a menu largely prepared with produce from the farm and eat the meal right at the farm, too.
As we think about wholesale for markets like Wolff’s, we have a vision for our branding, that when people see the sign for Weaver’s Orchard on our apples or cider, they recognize it and hopefully it carries a good reputation with it.