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Farmer Direct Marketing Tour and Program

Farm Business Management Update, August 1999

By Charlie Coale of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Virginia Tech

The heart of "Apple Country" is the destination for the August 31, 1999 Summer Tour, sponsored by the Farmers Direct Marketing Association. Gary Deoms, Frederick County Extension agent, will host the tour, which will feature five operations in the Winchester area. The farms are quite different in their product mix and offer many sound merchandising principles for your direct marketers.

The tour will begin at Rinker Orchards, a family apple orchard started about 1900. The Rinkers raise 150 acres of apples, mainly for processing, and produce Rinker's Cider with distribution in four states and Washington, D.C. The pick-your-own operation began in 1972, offering apples, red raspberries, pumpkins, cider, honey, and a gift shop. They also raise two and a half acres of asparagus, mostly retailed on an honor system off the back porch.

In 1878, a young couple bought land to start a farm. They planted a small orchard and had cattle to support their family. In time, the orchard and farm grew and the owners were able to sell their produce to the community. In the 1950's, direct marketing was the best way to sell products from the family farm. By 1999, Richard's Fruit Market has expanded greatly. The Richards now sell peaches, apples, vegetables, and local honey from a unique gift shop. They also sponsor several free festivals throughout the season.

Marker-Miller Orchards is a diversified fruit and livestock operation consisting of about 1,100 acres owned and operated by John and Carolyn Marker. About 325 acres are devoted to apples and 20 to peaches, pears, and plums, and 60 acres in pumpkins and green beans. The rest of the farm, used for a 175-head brood cow herd, is in pasture, hay, and crop. The orchard operation has a small packing house and sells retail on site during the harvest season of July 15 to Thanksgiving. The apple acreage is approximately 60 percent processing fruit and 40 percent fresh fruit. Most of the fresh fruits are marketed to fruit stands around Winchester and the Northern Virginia area. Delivery is made twice a week to Northern Virginia fruit stands, farm markets, and Giant Supermarkets.

The Pumpkin Patch at Hill High Farm was officially opened in the fall of 1995 with the hope that the community would appreciate the beautiful surroundings, and along the way, learn about agriculture. Since that time, visitation has increased from a few hundred to several thousand. Field trips are offered during the week to schools, churches, scouts, and other groups. On weekends, a variety of activities such as hayrides and pick-your-own pumpkins and apples are enjoyed. The Pumpkin Patch has farm animals for petting, straw mazes for the children, and antique farm equipment. The owners currently operate a dairy and apple orchard and raise beef cattle. They enjoy hosting visitors to their Century Farm.

Virginia Farm Market started in 1952 as an 8' x 12' roadside stand to sell the family's fresh peaches. The farm and stand were 12 miles north of Winchester on a busy highway. By the early 1960's, the Lizers had expanded their season to include strawberries, vegetables, and apples, all of which were grown by neighbors and relatives. As the peach trees grew older, the decision was made to purchase all of their products from other growers and concentrate their efforts on the retail side of the business. The current market, built in 1986, has 8,000 square feet and is located one mile north of Winchester. Traffic has almost tripled since the market was moved closer to town. The market season begins April 1 and runs until mid-December. Fall is the busiest season with local apples, jug-your-own fresh cider, and 15,000 pumpkins in the front yard.

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