Morning Dew Orchards: A blend of new technology and old methods keeps it profitable

SALEM, Ohio — Some say if you have farming in your blood, you just can’t get away from it.

For Doug Woolf, that’s exactly what happened.

“Once farming is in your family and your heart, it’s hard to get it out,” said Woolf.

The beginning

Woolf grew up on a dairy farm in Columbiana County, Ohio. When he graduated from high school, his parents, Buster and Jeanne Woolf sold the cattle and moved into the fruit production business.

Meanwhile, Woolf graduated college and began a teaching career. He moved to North Carolina and taught for nine years.

However, something kept pulling him back home. He would come home at every chance he could, just to be back on the farm working.

Then, due to budget cuts, his teaching job was eliminated.

About that time, his grandparents decided they wanted to retire, and put their operation, Vincent’s Orchards, up for sale.

Woolf decided that was his next step.

Not looking back

He purchased the 116-acre farm and returned to Salem three years ago with his wife, Noelle. They now have a son, Elijah, who is 2.

He hasn’t looked back.

Woolf now grows over 30 acres of apples, 5 acres of strawberries, one acre of plums, five acres of peaches and between 10 and 15 acres of sweet corn.

His grandparents, Jack and Bonnie Vincent, started the orchard two years after getting married, and now share their 50 years of fruit produce experience with Woolf.

“It’s been a successful farm for my grandparents and it continues to be,” said Woolf.

Changes made

Woolf didn’t wait to get started since the orchard was already producing product. The farm produced mostly heirloom variety apples with very few side crops.

Woolf has expanded the farm’s crops, and now Morning Dew Orchards produces 33 varieties of apples, many of which commercial orchards don’t grow anymore.

Spindle system

He also introduced the spindle system on the farm. When this system is used, the trees are planted only 3 feet apart and develop like a trellis system similar to grape vines. The spindle lines help cut down on labor and spray. There is less area to spray and the labor costs are decreased when it comes to harvest time.

Morning Dew Orchards also offers sweet corn, peaches, blueberries, asparagus, pears, plums and cherries for sale.

Also Woolf has developed into a pick-your-own strawberry site. This year, he has five acres but expects to harvest 10 acres in 2013.

Grafting

In addition, Woolf is trying to keep some of the orchard’s heirloom apples from disappearing. Ohio’s official apple, the Melrose apple, is also grown on the farm. It has been produced for almost 50 years and it continues from the original stock using grafting.

“This allows you to get the variety you want and to get it growing much faster,” said Woolf.

Woolf explained that to continue the orchard’s own line of apples, his grandfather grafts Melrose apple into the orchard’s stock. The farm also takes heirloom quality Honey Crisp apple trees and grafts them to keep them going.

“As a farmer, you’re a little bit of a scientist, trying to figure out what works for you. We’re trying new things all the time,” said Woolf.

New technology

Woolf also takes advantage of controlled atmosphere technology available through the GreenStar Co-op, in Greenford, Ohio. He stores his apples in the co-op’s CA storage, which involves careful control of temperature, oxygen, carbon dioxide and humidity. He said some years, depending on demand, he can have apples all year long with the new technology.

The airtight room where the apples are kept is sealed in the fall to slow the ripening process, and they open it in January. Apple producers can then open the room up every six weeks after that.

Weather woes

This year, the fruit trees and strawberries were in bloom early, but the weather is always a fear for Woolf.

“In this business, everything is determined by the weather,” said Woolf.

He added that his farm is in a good location. It has a good elevation, which makes a big difference when it comes to spotty frost. He said the late frost in May did some damage, but looking at the blossoms and fruits forming, he feels there will be a lot of apples for 2012.

Woolf said it can be trying to grow fruits and vegetables due to the level of dependence on the weather. However, he finds many benefits over his teaching career. He said he gets to work outside and he enjoys attending farmers’ markets.

“I enjoy talking to customers and it is fulfilling knowing people enjoy my product,” Woolf said. “However, what is most fulfilling is to the crop on the tree year after year. It is so satisfying when you get that first taste of the season.”

Consumers

Woolf said there is an outcry from some consumers for apples that have old-fashioned taste. The other complaint is that people who live in larger populated areas have little access to fresh fruits.

“They want the farm to come to them. We bring a quality product to them and that’s what they like,” said Woolf.

The earliest apple variety, the Yellow Transparent, will be available at Morning Dew Orchards around July 15.

About the Author

Kristy Foster Seachrist lives in Columbiana County raising sheep and horses. She earned her degree from Youngstown State University and has worked in both print and broadcast journalism. You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/fosterk96. More Stories by Kristy Foster Seachrist

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