Established in 1944 in Boyertown, PA, Frecon Farms has been growing locally for over 70 years. Originally a producer of apples and peaches with a focus on the wholesale market, the farm now grows 23 varieties of apples for wholesale, retail, and the production of hard cider. The farm also produces seasonal yellow, white, and flat peaches, 15 varieties of sweet and tart cherries, blueberries, and a variety of plums and pears. The Frecon family continues to farm the land they grew up on, using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and lots of hard work to preserve the orchards and maintain seasonal harvests.
We recently had the chance to tour the farm, and talk with Steve Frecon about his experience as a farmer. As we toured the beautiful orchard, Steve frequently hearkened back to “when I was 9” or “when I was 14” as we toured through the farm. It’s clear that the property is living history for him. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve painted this machinery,” he said, referring to the apple packing line. He’s done every job on the farm, growing up there. Read on to learn more!
What are your fondest memories of growing up on a farm?
There are so many, but all involve time with my family in the orchard. Camping in the orchard by the back pond… sitting on the front porch with my grandfather on summer evenings, looking out over the orchard and meadow, listening to his stories of farming and growing up in the Great Depression.
What is your mission as a small farmer?
My brother, sister, brother-in-law and I came back to the farm about 10 years ago to preserve the farm for another generation. Our mission is to ecologically and economically preserve my family’s farm through the cultivation of high quality produce, value added products and consumer services.
What is the most important piece of information about farming that you’ve learned from past generations?
Hard work can never be underestimated, but I’ve learned that persistent patience and planning are most critical. Taking the time to plan for the next 15 years is critical in tree fruits, and having the persistence and patience to see through that plan takes mental fortitude. If you do it right from the beginning and patiently work through the plan, the results will be evident in the final product.
The farm uses IPM to control pests – any unique approaches?
We use pheromone traps to monitor insect populations and pheromone lures to reduce certain insect populations to non-threatening levels. Tiny little bands are placed on trees that are baited with particular pests’ pheromones and result in mating pairs never finding each other to produce new generations. Nothing is sprayed, no fuel is expended and there is no residual effect in the environment. On the humorous side, we used a “sky dancer” like one would see at a used car dealership to scare birds from the cherry orchard and blueberry fields…also very effective!
Explain what you think the importance is of buying, selling and eating local.
Local is a web with many connected parts that yield shared results beneficial to all of us. It’s all about creating a better community. Buyers are reducing their carbon footprint and total impact to the environment, in addition to participating in the preservation of our farm land and open spaces. Sellers also reduce our impact to the environment by not expending fuel shipping produce across the globe. By cultivating a sustaining local market we in turn diversify to provide more to that local market, which preserves our farm land and open spaces. Being local creates jobs for our friends and neighbors on the farm and in the local food distribution system, which means they get to work and live closer to home. All of this is good for our community and each other. The best way to support local farms is so simple we sometime miss it… all you have to do is buy from them. Take a minute to stop at their roadside stands, go to a farmers market, send a letter to the food director of your school district and let them know you would like to see local produce in the school lunch menu, or ask your local market why they are not carrying local produce when it’s in season and let them know you would buy it if they had it. All we have to do as individuals is create the demand by buying or asking for local produce. Hats off to those of you already supporting these programs no matter where you are in the food system, the farmers can already see the difference.
What is your favorite time of the day, or time of year on the farm?
Early evening in the fall. The farm is a noisy place during harvest season; tractors and trucks coming and going, the hum of the packing equipment grading and boxing apples, forklifts running left and right, and a flurry of employees busily working to harvest, pack and sell all that fruit. Around 5:30 pm the noises subside, the air cools and there is a rich aroma of apples and earth all around me. I’m fortunate to work in this environment and the quiet calm of fall reminds me why we do this – it lets me reflect on my years on the farm and gives me time to think about the future and to be thankful.
Get the recipe for Mrs. Frecon’s Apple Cake here!