Portraits in Progress: Lynd Fruit Farm, thinking outside the box to stay in the game

PATASKALA, Ohio – As they watched Columbus inch steadily outward, the Lynd family realized a better market was right outside their door.

Lynd Fruit Farm, located 20 minutes from Columbus, has redefined itself from a leader in wholesale apples to a diversified, consumer, retail operation.

Direct marketing is key for the U.S. apple industry, said Mitch Lynd, co-owner of Lynd Fruit Farm. Producers who are direct marketers will survive longer than those who aren’t.

“We started our u-pick operation in the ’70s, and up until about the ’90s, we thought of it as more of a nuisance than anything. Now it’s what we’re known for,” said Lynd. “With suburbia getting closer and closer, we are finding that more and more people like to make their weekly, monthly or seasonal trip to the farm to stock up on their fruit.

“This may not be the cheapest place to raise apples, but we’re going to make it a nice place for apple lovers to visit.”

Lynd Fruit Farm has been a family operation since the late 1800s when Lynd’s ancestors were required to plant apples as part of a land deal. Lynd Fruit Farm is now owned by Mitch; his brothers, Lester and David; his son, Andy; and former longtime employees, John Kammeyer and Richard Wander. Lynd Fruit Farm sells apples wholesale, retail and pick your own.

Planting for consumers.

With an eye toward its consumer market, Lynd Fruit Farm pushed out many trees last winter to get rid of old varieties and varieties declining in popularity.

“We’re planting trees by the thousands, and we’re removing old trees by the tens of thousands,” said Lynd. “We’re thinning our crop, but we’re planting better, more profitable apple trees.”

Failing markets.

Lynd says the wholesale market has become nearly impossible and the juice market is even worse for U.S. producers.

“The wholesale market is going overseas and to stupid people in the U.S. The only people who would do wholesale right now are the people who love to live in poverty,” said Lynd.

“When you consider the cost of production, investment, risk and effort, you’d be nuts to be in the wholesale market.”

Lynd Fruit Farm did make a small profit from its wholesale operation, but after taking everything into consideration, Lynd said he and the others wonder why they stay in it.

“The supply and demand just isn’t there. I think you could push out every apple tree in the U.S. and the grocery stores would still be filled with apples and the customers at Kroger and Big Bear wouldn’t even know the difference,” said Lynd.

Lynd said producers overseas can raise more apples at a lower cost than U.S. producers.

“This is not the low-cost place to produce apples. Twenty minutes outside of Columbus, Ohio, is not a low-cost place to produce anything,” said Lynd. “The price of the commodity is global, and the cost to produce is local. It’s just a fact of life.”

Market squashers.

Lynd said the Chinese are the “killer” competitors in the juice market. He says U.S. cider mill owners are happy because they are able to get apples for a low price because of the amount of juice apples grown in the U.S., but the growers are beginning to grow less and less.

“The juice market is gone and gone forever. China, for all intensive purposes, has killed the U.S. market,” said Lynd.

Lynd Fruit Farm does have its own cider mill, which still serves them well and produces about 6,000 gallons a day, but Lynd predicts there will be a day when they will no longer produce juice.

Looking for the best.

Lynd Fruit Farm is constantly looking for a better apple. Currently, the farm is growing 28 commercial varieties, 100 named cultivars under test and 5,000 unnamed seedlings. He says they are looking first and foremost for disease-resistant apples.

“We are always wanting an improvement. We want to fight the big three – scab, mildew and fire blight,” said Lynd.

Lynd said Red Delicious still lead the wholesale market, but its popularity is declining rapidly. He also believes that if he had a sufficient volume of Fuji, they would, without a doubt, outsell Golden Delicious in the pick-your-own market.

“For 100 years, our industry grew prettier apples, and then one day the customers woke up and said, ‘I want something that tastes better,’” said Lynd. “If you would have told me 15 years ago that Red Delicious would not be America’s favorite apple, I would have told you you were crazy. Now we have Goldrush, Honeycrisp, Suncrisp and the leading favorite, Fuji.”

The Lynds believe they have the world’s largest Goldrush crop at 3,000 trees.

“Goldrush is a great apple. You will never find a mealy Goldrush, Fuji or Suncrisp like you will Red or Golden Delicious. I challenge everyone to find better apples,” said Lynd.

“These are the apples to get excited about.”

Selling the experience.

Along with apples, Lynd Fruit Farm grows pumpkins, peaches and the most recent addition – daylilies. The farm’s picturesque 600 acres are visited by thousands of people each year. Mitch said visitors to the farm, just 20 minutes northeast of Columbus, come for the “experience.”

“People like the idea of coming back to the ‘farm’ to get their apples, pumpkins and such. What we offer them is an experience,” said Lynd. “We have branched into the realm of entertainment farming. Presentation becomes very important.”

The farm has 25,000 families on its mailing list and more than 17,000 school children visited the farm last year. The Lynds now spend more time on landscaping and beautifying the farm.

Daylilies delight.

Lynd is excited about his venture of growing daylilies. His varieties sell anywhere from $15 to $100, and visitors to the farm are able to dig their own, take it home and plant it the same day.

“Daylilies are fantastic. There are so many different varieties in brilliant blues and purples. When most people think of daylilies, they think of the common gold daylilies,” said Lynd. “There are too many apple growers, but there aren’t nearly enough people growing daylilies.”

Visit Lynd Fruit Farm at 9090 Morse Road, Pataskala, Ohio, or call Mitch Lynd at 740-964-4744.

(Reporter Annie Santoro can be reached at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or asantoro@farmanddairy.com.)

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