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Specialty Crop Tour for Young Growers - North Star Orchard and Pete's Produce Farm

May 2012
The organic vegetable patch boasts of onions, lettuce, kohlrabi, kale, eggplants, endamame, tomatoes and more.

The organic vegetable patch boasts of onions, lettuce, kohlrabi, kale, eggplants, endamame, tomatoes and more.

North Star Orchard

YGA members met in Chester County, PA for a morning tour of North Star Orchard in Cochranville. Ike and Lisa Kerschner own and operate this 20 acre fruit and organic vegetable farm, in a addition to leasing approximately another 10 acres for fruit production. Ike showed the group around the orchard where they grow over 350 varieties of apples, pears, peaches, plums and even a couple of almond trees! This number includes trial varieties that only stay in the ground if they're deemed to be up to par. (By the way, they keep meticulous maps so they know where every fruit tree variety is growing.)

Specializing their crops to include heirloom and less commonly encountered varieties has given them a bit of a niche market. Most growers don't include classic antiques such as the Newtown Pippin and Adam's Pearmain in their apple repertoire. North Star thrives on offering rarities like these and many others to its customers.

It's clear that Ike adores plants, his hobby being breeding new varieties of fruits and vegetables, which he then grows on his farm. Some crops North Star produces are now exclusively grown from the varieties he developed. The Kerschners sell their products at market and also run a CSA.

Pete's Produce Farm

In the afternoon, the group took a scenic drive to Pete's Produce Farm where Pete gave a tour of his 170 acre operation. He grows a wide variety of vegetables like tomatoes, pumpkins, beans, peas, zucchini, cucumbers and lettuce, to name a few. Other crops include grains like his popular sweet corn of which he grows about 70 acres and wheat that is then stone ground sold in the market. Pete also plants some soybeans as deer bait in an attempt to keep the ever present and hungry ungulate population from feasting on his other crops.Pete's Produce

Tomatoes are grown under high tunnels, trellised, mulched with lots of straw and irrigated. Protection from the elements seems to give the crop a better quality and more consistent yield. This year Pete has put in rows of beans to border the tomatoes. Hopefully these will attract and deter any spider mites from continuing on their way to feast on tomato plants.

Both vegetables and flowers are started in a greenhouse below the market and near the large chicken run (Pete's also sells farm fresh eggs). Here, a germination pad, comprised of heating elements covered by sand, allows flats of seeds to rapidly sprout.