Packer’s Orchard celebrates 100 years

Robert A. DeFrank ORCHARD ANNIVERSARY — William Packer tests the ripeness of the peaches in this orchard. The orchard is marking its 100th year in business in Adena. Robert DeFrank

ADENA — Packer’s Orchard has been producing apples and other fruits and vegetables for 100 years, and the Packer family is celebrating a century in operation under the direction of four generations.

Located along U.S. route 250 in Adena, the orchard had its origins in 1917 as a homestead for the Packer family. William F. Packer was the original owner. The farm passed to his son, William A. Packer, and then on to his son, current owner William O. Packer.

“And the fourth generation is very active right now, too,” Marty Packer, wife of William O. Packer, said.

The orchard opened under the name of Sunshine Fruit Farm. The Packers own 130 acres of land, with 100 leased to a neighbor for farm crops and 30 acres for the Packer family’s orchard and vegetables.

“When my grandfather had it, we had 35 acres of fruit. When my dad and he had it, they went up to about 45 acres,” William O. Packer said, noting he himself utilized 80 acres for orchard ground at one time. But as the steel mills and coal mines closed, he said, business declined and he briefly closed the business. However, demand for the family’s fruit continued.

“We closed the market for five years, and then people kept saying, ‘I want some of your apples,’ so I started opening on weekends. That was about ’96,” he said. “Our business has increased every year” since.

The harvesting season started late last month when the peaches and vegetables started coming in.

“We’re open until our apples are all sold, usually by the end of October. What’s not sold goes to a food bank, but we usually have them all sold,” he said.

Packer added the orchard has seen numerous new customers, as well as many older, familiar faces.

“A few years ago everybody went into the home canning business and wanted to do that. We really started off with the generation of wives that wanted to can and freeze,” he said.

Marty Packer added many younger people now desire fresh fruits and vegetables.

“The kids love it in the fall when we have pumpkins out here — piles of them they can go through and gourds they can pick out,” Marty Packer said.

The demand has grown to the point that renovation of the market building became necessary. That work was completed in February.

The grand re-opening weekend to celebrate the orchard’s centennial and the refurbished facility will be Saturday and Sunday. The Packers also will put on a Fall Fest on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 featuring activities for families.

“Everything they get here is fresh, locally grown,” William O. Packer said.

The Packers employ about five part-time workers along with the family members. They try to spray as little pesticide as possible while producing a quality product.

“I’ve got traps out there where I catch whatever’s flying — insects — out there. I know what to spray and when. If they’re empty, I don’t spray. If I get insects in those traps, I know I’ve got to go out there and spray,” William O. Packer added.

Everything is picked by hand by employees.

Customers are not allowed to pick their own fruit due to liability insurance stipulations, the Packers said.

William O. Packer said they begin producing Lodi summer apples, followed by Ginger Gold in early August; next come Blondie, Honey Crisp, McIntosh, Red and Yellow Delicious, Melrose and Mutsu varieties.

They grow Red Haven Peaches, as well as Freestone, Red Star, Coral Star, Blushing Start and Bella Georgia varieties of that fruit.

He added the farming practice has changed and improved significantly since the orchard first opened it doors.

“The business is changing. We used to have big trees, like 40-foot (spaces between apple trees) and we used to plant peaches in between the trees in the row so it filled up that space. Then the peach trees were taken out and we just had apple trees. Then we had semi-dwarf trees,” he said.

“So we’re getting more trees per acre. They’re smaller trees, but they produce more fruit per acre. … It’s so much nicer on a smaller tree than it used to be on a big one. The nutrients are all going to fewer fruit on a tree. The big ones, they would be 30 feet tall or better. You had to tie ladders to get to the tops of them, and there was so many apples on the tree for what tree roots there were, that they didn’t get as big.

“We thin them until there’s not as many apples to a tree, and the apples get a lot bigger, and people like a big apple.”

The orchard is located at 746 Route 250. For information, call (740) 359-6693.