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Specialty Crop Tour for Young Growers - Hess Farm and 78 Acres Farm

On April 27, 2015 the Young Growers Alliance were able to take tours of Hess Farm and 78 Acre Farm.
Matt Harsh, 78 Acre Farm guiding the group through his apple blocks.

Matt Harsh, 78 Acre Farm guiding the group through his apple blocks.

Young Growers Tour Hess Farms and Matt and Mary’s 78 Acres

On April 27, a group of about 20 Young Grower Alliance members ventured on a specialty crop tour that was quite enjoyable and informative. I always learn more than I expect to on these tours, mostly due to the constant chatter of growers sharing their successes, failures, and farming conundrums. A big thank you to our hosts, the organizers, and our new YGA coordinator – Erin Dugan.

Our first stop was Hess Farms in Waynesboro, PA. Our host was Harlan Hess who owns and operates the farm with his brother Galen. Hess Farms is mostly a wholesale produce operation whose primary market is Walmart. They specialize in growing squash, sweet corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, blueberries, strawberries, sour cherries, peaches, and apples. They have a tomato packing house that is certified under Harmonized GAP. They also own and operate the cold storage and packinghouse at Five Forks where all their other crops are packed under Primus certification. We toured both packing facilities and had a wagon tour of the farm. The tour included seeing and discussing various crops, a stop at the greenhouses where they start all their vegetable plants, and a close look at a conveyor and bin trailer system they designed and manufactured to assist their produce harvest.

Our second stop was 78 Acres Farm in Smithsburg, MD which is owned and operated by Matt and Mary Harsh. Matt and Mary treated us to a delightful lunch in the upstairs of their old barn. The lunch was sponsored by AgChoice Farm Credit. During the “barn social” we discussed a possible YGA trip to South Africa and heard from Matt and Mary about farm succession, their journey back to the farm, the development of their various sales channels (farmers’ markets, Wegman’s, and a home-delivery company), and the expansion of their farm beyond the original 78 acres. Matt shared with us his frustrations and hopes in relation to farm labor before we headed out for another wagon tour. 78 acres is quite diverse and we got to see plantings of onions, table grapes, strawberries, peaches, apples, pluots, garlic, and more. While touring the apple blocks, Matt graciously received the group’s critique of his orchard design, training, and pruning. In the peach planting, we got to see a unique method of training that utilized the weight of cement blocks to bend quad V trees to a more horizontal growth habit.

Thanks to our hosts and organizers, this tour was well worth our time. Our hosts were inspirational examples of open-minded humility, innovation, interdependent networking, and the good old farmer kind of grit.

Prepared by Clair Kauffman, Kauffman’s Fruit Farm