Feb 16, 2023Apple packing, selling spotlighted in Mid-Atlantic convention bus tour
Cider doughnuts and apple packing and grading were some of the highlights at this year’s Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention bus tour.
Around 100 people began their convention with the pre-convention bus tour, which visited a handful of produce operations.
The bus tour was the day before the Jan. 31-Feb. 2 show in Hershey, Pennsylvania. It sold out early. Two busloads of 99 individuals, the tour’s typical number, visited a variety of ag businesses. Participants visited a farm market, a floral greenhouse, an apple packing operation, a fruit tree nursery and a farm restaurant/bed-and-breakfast operation.
The tour visited Adams Co. farm businesses. Adams County is southwest of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and adjacent to York County. It is noted for the Gettysburg Civil War battle.
Hollabaugh Bros. Fruit Farm and Market
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Hollabaugh Bros. has been growing and marketing fruit and vegetables from their 500-acre farm and crops of other local growers since 1955. The farm market features fresh produce, gourmet food items, baked goods, gifts, local meats, ice cream and prepared foods. An educational “Bee Room” tells about the farm’s production, including wall displays of bee pollination and other farm facts.
While the operation includes a bakery for fresh pies, Hollabaugh Bros. focuses on fresh produce and other items from growers, local farm partners and vendors. Hollabaugh Bros. operates a year-round community-support agriculture program and a u-pick area featuring blueberries and apples. It hosts many festivals and tours throughout the year, and also offers family-focused cooking classes.
Ellie Hollabaugh Vranich, retail market manager and assistant business manager, greeted tour bus passengers, discussing the farm’s history and operations. She noted that prepared foods are becoming a larger selling category.
In 2012, a new retail market was constructed, replacing the original across the highway that sold apples since the 1950s. Hollabaugh Bros. also sells fruit through a wholesale operation.
Rice Fruit Co.
Visiting Rice Fruit Co. in Gardners, Pennsylvania, tour participants received a view of how a major apple grower/packer/shipper operates. Rice Fruit leaders provided a tour of the company’s extensive operations.
Crop size, varietal makeup and size profiles of the many apple varieties grown by Rice and more than 30 growers in Pennsylvania, New York and Virginia were discussed.
“It’s like a big puzzle,” Leighton Rice, quality control manager, told the group. “You have to have the right fruit at the right time for the right customer.”
While Rice was founded as a company in 1913, the Rice family has been growing apples since the 1790s. The company focuses on apples, said Leighton. Because of pear psylla, not many pears are grown in that part of Pennsylvania, he said.
During the tour, robots stacking pallets and computer-controlled temperatures during fruit refrigeration were viewed.
“Automation is not replacing labor,” said Ben Rice, president. “It’s giving labor additional jobs. Dad (David Rice) always said we have to automate the right things or we will be doing the wrong things faster.”
Adams County Nursery
Visiting the Adams County Nursery in Aspers, Pennsylvania, tour members saw how the fifth-generation family-owned and operated nursery grows and ships fruit tree rootstocks.
Adam Baugher, warehouse manager, provided a look at the grading process and how trees are managed and inventoried. He discussed how the company, founded in 1905, grows and stages rootstocks.
Adams County Nursery grows more than a million trees, which are sold to customers primarily in the Eastern Seaboard, the Midwest and Canada. A majority of the company’s trees are grown in Pennsylvania and Delaware. Adams County Nursery also grows apples and peaches for fresh fruit production in a 200-acre orchard.
Other tour stops
In Cashtown, Pennsylvania, tour attendee walked through 1.5 acres of greenhouses dedicated to growing seasonal blooming plants and foliage plants sold wholesale to farm markets, garden centers, florists, hardware stores and other greenhouses in six states.
Adams County apples were part of the tour’s lunch at Hickory Bridge Farm and Restaurant in Orrtanna, Pennsylvania. A historic 150-year-old barn was constructed of chestnut and oak.
The convention was sponsored by the Pennsylvania Vegetable Growers Association, the State Horticultural Association of Pennsylvania, the New Jersey State Horticultural Society, the Maryland State Horticultural Society and the Virginia State Horticultural Society.
Workers pack Golden Delicious apples at Rice Fruit Co. during the Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention bus tour.
Photos & story: Doug Ohlemeier, assistant editor