Fruits and berries are among the world’s most delicious and nutritious foods, but many varieties, including apples, peaches, pears, strawberries, and grapes, rank consistently among the foods with the highest residues from pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and other chemicals.
As a result of concerns over the health effects of long-term exposure to these chemical residues, a growing number of families are making the switch to organic produce. At the same time, the local food movement, which encourages participants to eat foods produced as close to home as possible, is resulting in a revival of interest in small, locally owned family farms.
If you own a farm or acreage, starting an organic orchard can be a great green home business opportunity.
Starting Your Organic Orchard
Before starting your organic orchard, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the UDSA’s organic standards.
Organic orchards can take several years to establish and begin production, so it’s a good idea to plan an alternative crop to provide income in the meantime. For example, crops such as annual vegetables, fruits, grains, or hay can be planted among the rows of young trees, or livestock can be grazed. Poultry make an especially good choice for grazing among fruit trees during the establishment phase, because they eat many insect pests and weeds and fertilize the trees with their droppings.
Once the trees are established, another organic livestock enterprise that combines very well with organic orchards is organic beekeeping. The bees pollinate your trees, increasing fruit production, while providing honey, beeswax, and other products to sell.
Marketing Your Organic Orchard
Once your orchard is producing steadily, you will need a way to sell your fruit. The two most popular methods are wholesale sales, and direct-to-consumer sales.
If you plan to focus on direct marketing, it is a good idea to build a farm stand to provide a central place for conducting sales. This can range from a table by the side of the road to a full-size retail store selling both fresh fruit and value-added products such as pies, jams, and cider. Some farms also host on-site restaurants serving produce and other products grown on the farm, or cooperate with other local farmers to offer a wider variety of products on-site.
If you live near a highway or other busy road, you may be able to attract enough business to your farm stand with nothing more than a few well-placed signs.
Another great way to advertise is through the local food community online, which includes popular nationwide sites such as Local Harvest, an online directory of local farmer’s markets, CSAs, family farms, and other local food producers, as well as local sites such as Vancouver Foodshed, an interactive online map of local food producers near Vancouver, British Columbia.
Finally, attending your local farmer’s market (there are now more than 5,000 around the United States!) is a great way to introduce your farm to potential customers and make sales at the same time!
Three Organic Orchards Growing Great Fruit
Lost Nation Orchard is an organic orchard and herb farm located in Groveton, NH. Lost Nation grows more than 60 varieties of organic apples, from modern favorite Honeycrisp to classic Cortlands and Gravensteins. In addition to fresh apples, the farm offers a variety of products including apple cider, apple butter, and cider vinegar, as well as rootstock. Owner Michael Phillips, author of The Apple Grower: A Guide for the Organic Orchardist, also offers classes and consultations in organic orcharding, and is founder of Grow Organic Apples, a network of holistic orchardists.
AppleLuscious Organic Orchards, located on Saltspring Island, British Columbia, offers more than 200 varieties of organic apples, specializing in heritage, connoisseur, and red-fleshed varieties. Owner Harry Burton uses “wild orchard” growing techniques that encourage a healthy orchard ecosystem, producing naturally pest- and drought-resistant trees. The farm also produces wild blackberries and heirloom organic garlic.
Blue Heron Orchard, located in Canton, MO, was founded in 1990 and was the first certified organic orchard in Missouri. Owners Dan Kelly and Cherie Sampson grow a number of apple varieties, ensuring steady production from mid-August to late October. They also sell products such as apple syrup, apple cider, and apple cider vinegar.
Main Image Credit: clairity