May 16, 2019Timothy Weiser honored as top veggie grower in Pennslyvania
His family farm grew fruit, but in the 1970s Timothy Weiser saw an opportunity in vegetables.
“We were in the fruit business, cherry business and plum business – several hundred acres of fruit,” said Weiser. The farm is based at York Springs, Pennsylvania. “I always had a little garden at home. I was just interested in growing stuff. I saw a need for it, and a market for it, and right now our retail sales at our market is probably 40 percent vegetables.”
In February 2019, about 40 years after he came back to the family farm after college and started growing vegetables – Weiser received the Pennsylvania Vegetable Growers Association (PVGA) Annual Award recognizing his dedication to the industry.
His maxim for farm marketing is simple enough: “Whatever the public wants, that’s what you better be doing.”
Weiser Orchards Farm Market today grows 25 acres of vegetables and 100 acres of fruit and berry crops for the retail farm market. It grows 20-30 different vegetables in addition to stone fruit and apples. Bell peppers, hot peppers, snap beans, eggplant, zucchini and various types of squash – summer, acorn, butternut and spaghetti – are all good sellers. Many products are falling in popularity compared to kale, which Weiser said consumers now seek out for homemade chips and health drinks – a trend he doesn’t understand but is happy to supply.
“It doesn’t matter what I want – it’s what people want to buy,” he said.
“Everybody’s on some kind of a health kick.”
What the public wants can change in just a few years. Weiser has a retail greenhouse and saw sales of vegetable plants spike during the recession when people grew gardens.
“For a couple of years people really bought a lot, started their gardens up when the economy took a crash, but the last four-five years, that’s gone the other way,” Weiser said. “They want to buy everything. They want to buy it pre-prepared or in a store somewhere. They don’t want to grow. Even the flower business is going that way. They don’t want to have to weed; they want everything growing in pots.”
The greenhouse was initially his response to demand. In 1987, he built a greenhouse when a local hardware shop wanted someone to grow plants for its retail operation. Eventually, he started selling them from his own market.
“Now, we’ve got 18,000 square feet,” Weiser said. “We have two houses. I grow tomatoes and peppers and different things. … bedding plants and baskets and 4.5-inch stuff.”
There is, however, one sale that he isn’t ready to make.
“The big wholesalers and stuff – the big Lowe’s and Wal-Marts and all that – I don’t sell to those people,” Weiser said. “Before I sell to them, I’ll shut the operation.”
Weiser said startup growers should keep in mind the sale before they plant.
“Start out with small acreage and make sure you have a place to sell it,” he said.
“Too many people get into it with no place to sell it, and they dump it on the market and it hurts everybody.”
His own parents and grandparents followed that model in the 1930s. His grandfather, a schoolteacher, bought the farm in 1932, and worked there during the summer.
“My grandmother started the retail sales on the front porch of the house I live in now,” Weiser said. That happened in 1936.
Weiser’s father served in World War II but came back to the farm afterward. The farm market has been expanded several times over the years, and eventually, when U.S. Route 15 was constructed on the edge of the farm property, a new market was built on that corridor, along with a blueberry U-pick operation. Different farm enterprises have been tried: At one time they fed cattle and even pork. For years, Weiser, his father and brother were partners in the operation, but his father passed away a few years ago and his brother recently got out of the business.
“It’s down to myself and my wife now,” Weiser said. “I’m going to be leasing out a lot of my ground now.”
Trying something new
The PVGA award recognized Weiser’s “longstanding record of service and dedication to the fruit and vegetable industries of Pennsylvania,” and throughout his career, he’s stayed curious and willing to try new things. In the late 1970s, his farm was the site of a study of the effects of fusarium wilt on cantaloupe and honeydew melons. In 2010, Weiser added a high tunnel to study different types of tomatoes and their yields.
“I try new things, I try new varieties,” he said. “You’ve got to keep up in today’s market, with what’s being grown and what’s out there to grow. You just can’t rely on the same old stuff you sold 15 years ago.”
That last statement would include both fruit and vegetable growers.
“At our market, our Red Delicious sales now are 10 percent of what they were 20 years ago, just because there are different varieties of apples that come in early that taste better than Red Delicious did,” he said.
Photos: Edwin Remsberg