By Hannah Wang ‘20
Barnard’s Orchards is a picturesque farm situated in Chester County. It’s popular among local residents during the fall for apple picking, and kindergarteners in the school district have a field trip to the orchard every year. Indian Post interviewed the owner of Barnard’s Orchard to find out more about this beloved local business.
Indian Post: Can you tell us a bit about the history of the orchard? When was it created and for what reason?
Lewis Barnard: I am part of the fourth generation of the orchard. My great-grandfather actually purchased the farm across the road and inherited this portion in 1862. You grow things on the farm to support yourself, so he probably had a little bit of this and that. I know he grew some grapes and had some greenhouses and grew strawberries.
Percy, my grandfather, took over, and he and his wife Jane ran the farm. At that time he grew flowers. Sweet pea is a flower, and back in the early 1900s and 1920s it was a popular flower. At that time, it was a pretty big industry here. And I know my grandfather also had an orchard and he may have planted most of the early apples, so he kind of established the orchard.
My grandfather, had four kids. My uncle Sam and my father Richard eventually took over the farm. Both of them went to Penn State; my dad studied pomology, which is the study of fruit science, and my uncle studied floriculture, the study of cultivation of flowers. My father ran and expanded the orchard part and increased the orchard size in the 1950s. My uncle Sam ran the greenhouses.
IP: What are the best-selling products this year? Of all time? In different seasons?
LB: Overall, I have to say apples are probably our biggest thing, but seasonally, in the wintertime, we grow a flower called snapdragon, and they’re very popular. During February and March, there’s another flower called freesia that we grow in the greenhouse. We’ve had a really wet season, so it’s really tough to make some things grow. Volume-wise and acre-wise, the apples we grow take up about 18 acres. We also have about a half an acre of pears, probably eight acres of sweet corn, some pumpkins, and some miscellaneous vegetables. We grow some blueberries, and during June, July, and August, they are really popular.
We have to diversify, so there shouldn’t be and isn’t one main crop that is above all others. You kind of want to have a balance, so when you diversify each different crop, you hope it pays its own way, and hopefully pays a little bit of profit as well. Back in the past, we weren’t as diversified — apples, peaches, and flowers. Being diversified kind of spreads the risk.
“It gives me a good feeling when people come up and say, ‘Thank you for doing it'”
IP: What are the types of plants the orchard grows today, and are there any changes?
LB: There are extension services that do university research and give replies to farmers. They now recommend planting apples a whole lot closer together than what they used to as being a more economical way to grow the trees, so there is research that helps farmers stay in business. The trees are planted five feet apart per row instead of twenty feet apart per row. Although we’ve been planting apple trees for a long time, originally apples trees were planted forty feet apart, because they didn’t have dwarf roots, and they grew to be huge things. But you had to wait ten, twelve, fifteen years before you reach your maximum production. So now they have the newer technology of the dwarfing types of fruit trees recommended, and we are educated as we grow more economically.
There have been new varieties. It used to be Red Delicious and Gold Delicious and a few others, but now we have Honeycrisp, Fuji, Braeburn, and Pink Lady — varieties that probably are crisper, [which is] one of the criteria the public these days tend to treasure on an apple pie. You can appreciate an apple for being crisp, or you can appreciate it for its flavor. I can do both, but [for] a lot of people, once the apple has lost its crispness, they feel like it’s not good anymore. So varieties that we grow here have changed.
The markets have changed; the marketing has changed. Wholesale cut-flowers was a huge industry around Kennett Square and I have been told that in the past, there were around 25 different families that grew carnations. There were four or five markets that grew roses, but most cut-flowers come from out of the country because of heating costs. We have cloudy days here in the northern hemisphere, and a lot of lower sunlight, so the flowers can become weaker-stemmed.
IP: What are the biggest challenges in running the orchard?
LB: It’s a challenge to find enough help — skilled help — because a lot of times, it can be described as a non-skilled occupation. However, it’s actually a skill to be able to harvest fruits. And finding people to help harvest the fruits can be a challenge.
There are some new regulations that have come about that are difficult to incorporate into what we do. And it’s a real challenge because, unfortunately, agriculture is less than two percent of the population, and when people write regulations, they really have little experience towards agriculture. I went to a meeting a few years ago, and there was a law regarding strong food and food safety, and part of this law was, as the lady explained, “Well, if you have evidence of deer in your area of production, you simply aren’t be permitted to harvest that portion of your production.” And I said, “Oh my gracious. Deer are all over the place.” That really concerns me — people who make up the rules that seem to have little experience.
I’m positive about the future. People like flowers, people like to access local food, and I like to talk to the public when they come visit the shop and explain what we do. And it gives me a good feeling when people come up and say, “Thank you for doing it.”
IP: What do you personally like the most about the orchard?
LB: I like growing things. I like seeing seeds come out of the soil, and that goes back to when I was a kid. Planting a seed and watching it break through the crust of the soil, lifting the first leaves in the air. You can take a seed, put it in the soil, and with a little bit of moisture, all of a sudden, it comes to life. And like I said, I like talking to the public and being able to interact with people that appreciate being able to buy local foods. I explain a little bit about what we do. And you feel a good level of appreciation from the people you meet personally, and talk to them that way.