Ohio apples don’t fall too far from the tree

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SALEM, Ohio — There are a lot of apples being grown in Ohio.



      Ohio has almost 200 commercial apple growers who, in 1999, produced a million pounds of apples.



      That is small by national standards. Ohio ranks 10th in apple production, and Washington state, the leading producer, had a 1999 crop of over 5 billion pounds.



      But Ohio apples are being marketed a little differently than are Washington apples.



      There are two kinds of producers in Ohio. About 50 percent of the apples grown in the state are marketed through the Fruit Growers Marketing Association.



      And, according to Dave Gress, association general manager, these growers are getting bigger and growing more fruit on fewer trees. There are also fewer of them than there used to be.



      These are the apples that are graded, sized, detergent washed, hot water rinsed, heat tunnel dried and sold in volume to regional supermarket chains.



      While he can’t seem to convince Giant Eagle buyers of the superior quality of Ohio apples, Gress said the association has marketing contracts with Kroger, Big Bear, Penn Traffic, TOPPS, and A-Hold Inc., a holding company that operates several smaller chains out of Buffalo, N.Y.



      Ohio apples are sold in Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, Kentucky, and other surrounding states.



      But what happens to the other half of the apple crop?



      Ohio is rich with farm markets and farm stores that have been expanding into other retail areas, but whose main line is still the apples they grow on their own land.



      Dave Eyssen of Mapleside Farms in Brunswick, Ohio, said that Mapleside is one of the largest farm markets in the state.



      It’s all in its location, he said, right off Interstate 71 between Cleveland and Columbus, with Cleveland bearing down on the orchard more every year.



      ”We’re no longer in the country out here anymore,” Eyssen said.



      In the 1960s, Mapleside began adding additional retail capabilities in a big way. They now sell a full line of produce, have a bakery, a gift shop and a restaurant.



      Still, he said, October is still the biggest month of the year. People like to come out of the city and buy their apples at an orchard.



      ”We are still basically an apple orchard,” Eyssen said.



      He said the farm market sells about 50,000 pounds of apples a year, and although they have 24 varieties, the biggest seller is still the Melrose apples they began specializing in 15 years ago.



      In Chardon, Sage Apples expanded its farm market store in 1972. But while Bob Sage has 50 varieties of apples to sell, he said he has had to expand his line beyond apples by putting more of his farm into other crops.



      ”We’re selling a lot of vegetables now,” he said. “Sweet corn, green beans, tomatoes, a whole line of fresh produce. Our peaches are expanding, and we have been adding plums and other fruit trees.”



      What is quite different than in the past, he said, is that people buy less apples at a time than they used to.



      ”We’ve stopped the half bushels,” he said. “There is no such thing anymore.”



      ”Everybody is doing this a little bit different. Up here we can’t grow enough apples to really compete with the wholesale growers.”



      In the last 15 years, Jim Dillon of Lisbon had established a wholesale market selling to local grocery stores. But now he’s now looking toward the retail market as he watches his wholesale business disappear.



      He said he used to sell only about 10 percent of his crop retail. He supplied a small chain of five grocery stores, and additional IGA stores in the surrounding areas. But the chain owner sold out to Giant Eagle, which closed some of the stores and absorbed the remainder.



      ”Their buyer won’t even look at me,” Dillon said.



      And although he still stocks several IGA stores, he is also watching that market slowly disappear as the IGAs keep losing business to the giant retail chains.



      ”I would say my future right now doesn’t lie in expanding my wholesale sales.”



      Currently, he has expanded the amount of apples he sells from his own small farm market and has been selling to other local farm markets.



      He said he is going to take 30 acres of trees out this year, and is thinking about planting berries or some other line of produce.



      ”Right now we’re selling apples and cider,” Dillon said. “It would help if I had something else to expand what we have available.”

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