May 2009 • New Directions www.americanfarm.com
‘Challenge of growing’ draws couple to re-start orchard
By KEVIN GEORGE
FEDERALSBURG, Md. —
Getting something from nothing sounds like the ultimate ticket to
Easy Street. Another interpretation of the phrase, though, is what attracted
Steve and Lynda Blades to take over one of the larger orchards in
Delmarva last year. “It’s the challenge of growing things, bringing in customers and
coming up with new ideas,” Steve Blades said. “Each year, you start
with nothing, and you grow it to the best of your ability.”
Blades Orchard, formerly Friendship Farms at 4822 Preston Road
in Maryland ’s Caroline County, is beginning its second growing season.
But the Blades are taking small steps while they find their way.
“We pretty much have to go with the previous owner’s footprint” on
where to plant specific crops,” he said. “We did move a bunch of apple (trees)
this early spring — they were in an area that was really getting crowded
out by a little section of woods.” “Short of taking out the woods,
which I didn’t really want to do, moving the apples was the easier of
two evils.” Some of the older existing crops have been removed to put in different
crops, like pumpkins, he noted. Blades said he has gotten guidance
from other orchard growers in the area and has also gotten help
from the University of Maryland’s Wye Research and Education Center and Penn State
— “If they don’t know it, they put me in touch with somebody
that does” — and others in the Mid-Atlantic orchard industry.
“We’ve become friends because we’re kind of the minority around
here,” said Blades of fellow orchard growers. “If you’re not a chicken
farmer or a row cropper — you’re thinking way too far outside the
box,” he added with a grin, Blades said they are preparing for
an orchard of 20 acres of 30 different varieties of peaches “mixed in with
some nectarines plus pears,” and about four or five acres of 12 different
kinds of apples. Small apportions of strawberries, blueberries and blackberries
are also planted on the 62-acre farm, which includes about 10 acres devoted to a
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) vegetable operation with more
than 100 families registered. Blades credited his wife with the
idea to open a CSA. “It’s a way to bring people to the orchard,” he said. “Along with that,
you get a substantial influx of cash early in the season to help you kind
of start off.” Blades, who used to own Wishing Well Liquors in Easton, Md., until 10
years ago or so, said his wife encouraged him to try this new career path.
“She asked me what I wanted to do, and I told her that I always wanted
to be a farmer,” he said. “This (property) sat on the market for
1,200 or 1,500 days — about three or four years — and I noticed one day
the (for-sale) sign came down and the previous owner was cutting grass.”
From there, Blades said, negotiations took about 18 months, “finding
a bank, putting together a business plan ... all that fun stuff.”
Blades said he has wagon rides planned for customers this fall to get
them to the pick-your-own apple and pumpkin areas of the orchard.
CSA Share 2011 - We grow it all.