Note: Meet Your Farmers is a weekly series where we profile the farmers that mean so much to serious eaters everywhere. This week we catch up with Joe Nicholson of Red Jacket Orchards, one of our favorite juice suppliers.
Name: Joe Nicholson Jr.
Farm: Red Jacket Orchards
How many acres? 600 acres
Your crew: A seasonal crew of up to 75 people. That number is obviously highest during the harvest, starting in June. They are great people, hard-working, and really a community within the community of Geneva. There are a lot of families working for us—husbands and wives, sons and daughters, with the men tending to work in the field and the women in the warehouse and the juice plant.
Hours: Sun-up to sundown, and later.
What you grow: Apples, apricots, peaches, plums, prunes, raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb, blueberries, black currants, sweet and tart cherries.
Your customers: People who like good fruit and prefer local fruit.
How you got into farming: I got into farming partially from a personality test I took when I was 25, interviewing for a brokerage house in New York City. The test told me I would be happiest working on the farm, not on Wall Street, so I left finance to come back to the family farm.
Where did you learn to farm? My father, who originally bought a fruit farm in 1958, and myself, through trial and error.
Your farming philosophy: Survive. Just try to get through all of the challenges that farming throws at you, the weather being the biggest of those.
Why do you farm? It's a great challenge to consistently bring great products to the market and you learn something every year. There is also a creative side to it. Its great to bring new or better varieties of fruit to the marketplace. To get a customer to say "wow" when they taste our fruit is very rewarding.
The best thing about farming? It's the constant challenge and learning aspect. And the challenges literally can change from hour to hour, based on the weather and the conditions in the marketplace.
The worst thing? It's actually hard for me to think of a bad thing, but I guess its keeping the fruit alive. Also waiting for things to mature before you know whether or not a decision was a wise one. It can take 3 to 5 years sometimes for a tree to mature to fruiting and you have to wait before you know if you should have spaced the rows differently or planted a different variety.
Most important lesson you've ever learned? Every mistake you make brings you to a higher level as far as being a competent grower.
What's the most important piece of advice you'd bestow on a young would-be farmer? Start small, make your mistakes early, learn from them, and if you can, expand as you get better.
The future for good food? The future of good food is looking really good right now. The trend is that people are way more conscious of fresh, nutritious food than they were even 5 or 10 years ago. More and more people are paying attention where their food comes from and are looking for local produce. It's an exciting time.
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