Apr 7, 2007
Straw ‘Tractor’ Hauls in Customers

Gro-Moore Farms claims to have the largest John Deere in North America. It’s about 18 feet tall and 30 feet long. An “unbelievable” number of people have taken pictures of it.

There’s one drawback, however. It’s made of straw, said Jack Moore, one of the farm’s owners.

Jack’s wife, Kathy, has painted straw bales for 20 years. They’re usually used as makeshift billboards for the farm market or crowd barriers for the festivals, then taken back to the farm and used as mulch cover for the berries.

The designer was a little more ambitious this year. It took her a week and 10 gallons of paint to create the straw “tractor.” She’s quite the artist, Jack said.

Gro-Moore Farms is located in Henrietta, N.Y., about 15 miles from Rochester. It’s a family business, run by Jack and Kathy; Jack’s parents, Janet and George Sr.; and Jack’s brother, George Jr., and his wife, Brenda.

George Sr., 74, and Janet, 69, are still actively involved on the farm. George Jr. and Brenda are the growers. The family has been on the farm since 1917, Jack said.

“The family has worked hard over the years,” he said. “We’ve always worked together.”

The farm encompasses 500 acres. The primary crop is sweet corn, but there are 60 acres of pumpkins and 25 acres of u-pick strawberries, along with tomatoes, melons, squash, small grain crops and other fruits and vegetables. The farm has two acres of greenhouse space, which houses bedding plants, annuals and hanging baskets. The family used to be in the cabbage business, but got out of that in 1992, Jack said.

The farm market is seven miles from the home farm, next to the petting zoo and festival grounds. The market sells produce and value-added food items. There are more than 45 varieties of jellies, preserves and butters, an assortment of pickled products, condiments, salad dressings, hot sauces and salsas, as well as 25 flavors of fudge, according to the farm’s Web site, www.gromoore.com.

The market is open from April 1 until Christmas Eve. In late November, the family was getting ready for the holiday season. The farm has 10 full-time employees – 50 during peak times, Jack said.

The market was built in 1985. At that time, the main emphasis was vegetables. The family worked more than 1,000 acres of grain and vegetables. Now, the emphasis is on greenhouse products. The majority of the farm’s income comes from plant material, he said.

Retail sales have slowly grown in importance. Now, about 95 percent of the farm’s crops are sold retail, he said.

Fall is the busy season. The annual fall festival starts the last week of September and runs through the end of October. The festival grounds are set up on a 10-acre plot next to the farm market. Activities for children abound. Vendors sell fried dough and kettle corn and the farm sells pumpkins and other items.

About 80,000 customers visit the farm during the five-week festival. The Rochester area is very affluent, Jack said.

“We’ve changed with the times,” he said. “We’re looking for the next niche, I guess. We’re working toward specialty foods stuff. More than half the products we sell in our store have our label on them. You have to change, or you die.”

Jack and his brother each have four children, ranging from teenagers to college students. They’ve been encouraged to look at other opportunities before deciding whether or not to return to the farm, Jack said.

“They’ve always been a big part of what we do,” he said. “Maybe, in time, they’ll take over the farm.”

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