A retired farmer keeps an orchard in the family | Harvests
CENTRALIA, Ill. — Tom Schwartz has decided to retire from the fruit business after 40 years. Fortunately, the company will not retire with him.
The farm will now be run by his nephew, Adam Smith.
“You don’t talk to a lot of people in the fruit business who have successfully passed it on to another,” Schwartz said.
He has adult children but only one girl lives nearby and she is not interested in farming. For Smith, the son of Schwartz’s sister, it will be almost a seamless transition.
“I always knew that was what I was supposed to do,” Smith said.
He worked for his uncle on and off since childhood, but spent most of his career in the oil business. When the opportunity arose to take over the farm, he jumped at the chance. The weather is ideal.
“I don’t think I could have done it until now,” Smith said. “It’s a question of maturity, learning at all levels of science, regulation, social interaction and foresight.”
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Schwartz’s father, Matt, started with a field of strawberries in the 1950s and moved into the apple business in 1960.
Tom Schwartz took over the Marion County, Illinois farm in 1980 and has operated it ever since. He bought the farm – which includes around 60 acres of fruit trees – in 2010 after the death of his mother, Pauline.
By the 1960s, most commercial orchards in the area were wholesale operations, with apples and peaches shipped by rail to Chicago and other hubs. As the advent of refrigerated trucks and containers opened up competition from Michigan, Washington and overseas, markets have changed, especially for apples. Many orchards have reduced their apple acreage in favor of peaches, which are often sold at retail, and switched to direct marketing.
“Previously, it was around 75% production and 25% marketing. Now it’s upside down,” Schwartz said. “That was pretty much it. Today, everyone is supposed to know their farmer. Now you’re stuck with 250 acres of apples – where are you going to sell them? »
He found a solution to this problem. He still grows more apples than peaches on his farm, finding success with a new market after buying and installing a press that he uses to make cider and apple juice. Today, apple trees represent approximately 70% of the orchard, peach trees 20% and strawberries the remaining 10%.
Schwartz is confident his nephew will be fine.
“It’s been around me and the end of horticulture since the 90s,” he said. “He knows the end of production. He doesn’t know the marketing end of it. He will learn.
Indeed, Smith has some ideas for what is now his farm.
“It’s about presentation, basically,” he said. “Locally grown, homegrown, wholesome. That’s what people want.
The basics of the tree farm will likely remain. Other elements will be introduced.
“I don’t think there’s much to change in the fruit part itself, except maybe some new varieties,” Smith said. “Adding products, that’s what we’re going to do. There’s quite a bit of waste that you can turn into juice.
This means not only continuing the successful cider business his uncle started, but working on products such as hard cider, apple wine and freeze-dried strawberries. He also plans to explore making a range of apple cider vinegar, a complex product that has recently become popular as a beverage due to its health benefits.
One thing that won’t change is the name of the farm, Schwartz Orchard.
“We’re definitely keeping it,” Smith said.