Venango County’s Last Orchard Remains a Family Affair

| September 23, 2019

FRANKLIN, Pa. (EYT) – At one time, Venango County had multiple orchards; however, only one remains in operation today.

Barber’s Orchard is the lone remaining fully functioning orchard in the county. In 1962, brothers Bob and Jim Barber purchased the orchard located on Route 417 in Franklin, which was formerly Hartman’s Orchard.

The Barbers made many changes over the years, adding a number of trees, purchasing more property, and expanding the business. It currently sprawls over 235 acres.

In 1990, Bob’s son Gary and his wife Darlene began taking over the business.

According to Darlene Barber, one of the things that makes Barber’s Orchard unique, particularly in a region with few orchards left, is the wide variety of apples they grow.

“We have about 25 (varieties) in all, I’d say. Some of them don’t get picked, but most of them do,” Barber explained.

“Some trees we have up there are only one or two trees because Uncle Jim, he was our mentor, planted experimental trees for Penn State to see how they grew here, and to see if people learned to like them or if they weren’t a favorite. So we have some very odd varieties.”

Some of the varieties include well-known, popular apples like McIntosh, Cortland, Gala, and Honey Crisp, as well as other, less common varieties such as Pippin, Empire, Jonamac, Ginger Gold, Crimson Crisp, Zestar, Ida Red, and even Northern Spy.

“The Northern Spys are hard to find because they do not grow any further south than Butler. They are a northern apple. We didn’t even know that until one year when we were totally froze out. We had nothing, so I put in some calls down to Blair County, because that’s where the nurseries are for the trees, to see if they knew of any orchards down there with Macintosh and Cortlands that we could buy. They don’t even grow Macintosh and Cortland that far south, I was told.”

That year wasn’t the only year the Barbers faced adversity due to the weather, Barber noted.

“We went through some pretty hard times with the climate. We were froze out I think five years in a row, and that really hurt, so we had no choice but to add on the grocery area to get us through the winter months when there is no produce.”

This year, on the other hand, they faced an entirely different problem.

“We lost a lot (of plants) earlier in the spring. Everything rotted in the ground, and we had to just keep replanting. In July this year, we were hand mudding cabbage plants into the ground. You couldn’t get into the field with all the rain.”

Their annual crops are all started from seed in their greenhouse and include tomatoes, a wide range of peppers, cantaloupe, cabbage, potatoes, full size and pickling cucumbers, eggplants, zucchini, yellow squash, onions, corn, several varieties of winter squash, pumpkins, and green, yellow, and purple beans.

They also have a blueberry patch and offer both picked blueberries as well as a pick your own option during the blueberry season, and grow and sell some flowers, as well.

Despite the size of the property and the huge selection of crops, they also remain a family run business.

While the business is currently in the process of being handed down, again, to the Barbers’ son Chris, he still maintains a full-time job outside the business, and Darlene and her daughter, Stephanie, handle much of the day to day operations, with Stephanie’s two young children also in attendance.

“It’s a small family business. A small business, but a busy one,” Darlene noted.

“When we get busy with apples, and there’s no possible way the two of us can handle it, we have friends and neighbors that always show up to help. Last year, I was in an immobilizer all apple season, couldn’t even walk. They brought me in, put me in a chair, and I sat over there and explained all the different apples to people, what they’re used for, and that was my job, along with answering the phone. I had one employee who would run the register, and the rest was family and volunteers. We couldn’t have done it without them.”

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