For its October 2004 Field Trip, the Society toured Cherry Hill Orchards on Route 324 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Owned by Richard and Tom Haas for 33 years, Cherry Hill grows more than 100 cultivars of apples, peaches, cherries, pears and other fruit on 140 acres. The Haas family markets about one-third of its produce through a retail farm market, one-third through a pick-your-own operation, and the remainder wholesale. Peaches, picked when ripe rather than green, as is often the practice, go to local Genuardi’s supermarkets. With 2,500 sweet cherry trees, Cherry Hill is one of the largest cherry producers in the state. The Haas family produces 40 varieties of apples, 25 varieties of sweet and tart cherries and 25 varieties of peaches. Other tree fruit grown includes plums, quinces, apricots, pears and nectarines. Strawberries and pumpkins are also grown. Harvest begins about mid-June with sweet cherries and usually concludes the first week of November with late-maturing varieties of apples.
While fruit is the main product at Cherry Hill, the Haas family retails processed food products such as jams and jellies made by small niche food producers in the Lancaster area. In terms of revenue per square foot of retail space, cookies, baked by a separate Haas family business, take first place, with the inventory turning over about six times a week. Fruit sold through the store is picked as it matures to optimize flavor. Richard Haas says there is a 5-day difference in blooming date, and therefore fruit maturity, between the south and north sides of the same tree. Dwarf trees permit picking from the same tree at intervals, since crews do not have to haul ladders into the field. The family believes this flavor-optimal picking strategy keeps customers returning to the store.
Several new varieties of apples are grown on Russian rootstock which is less susceptible to blight and more winter hardy. Productivity is high compared to 20 years ago. The Haas family plants 300 dwarf apple trees per acre. This optimizes nutrients and sunlight and therefore yield. Such gains in productivity help Lancaster county fruit producers offset the high cost of farming on land which often sells for $10,000 per acre. Chemical sprays used to protect the fruit from pests have increased in price as well, with some products selling for more than $100 per gallon.
New varieties necessitate replacing older varieties, such as Red Delicious, which have declined in popularity and value. Fuji, Winter Banana, JonaGold, Honey Crisp and Empire are among popular new varieties that sell well. The Haas family grades and packs apples on a line that store customers can observe. They avoid two aspects of apple packing they say customer do not like putting stickers on each apple and waxing them with a thin coat of paraffin. Future plans at Cherry Hill Orchards call for increasing the population of apple trees per acre by moving rows of trees five feet closer to 15 foot intervals.