A woman once told Sally Beckwith that Aug. 1 is her favorite day of the year. That’s the day when Beckwith Orchards opens for the season. “By being seasonal, there’s a real interest and excitement to support us through the fall,” says Sally, the orchard’s general manager.
Beckwith is the fifth generation of her family to run the orchard started by her great-great-grandfather Frank Beckwith nearly 125 years ago. It’s not very often you hear of a family business lasting that long, and Sally cites her family’s cautious business approach as part of the reason why theirs has sustained. “I think in general, we’ve been quite conservative in the way we’ve expanded,” she says. “We don’t add something else or buy new equipment until we have the ability to purchase it. We all have a real interest in our history and our tradition that has been here for several generations now.”
That tradition continues with Sally and her six siblings, all of whom she says have a genuine interest in keeping the business going as a family farm. All seven siblings work in the orchard, though Sally is the only one who doesn’t have an additional career. And although Sally doesn’t have any children of her own, she does have 14 nieces and nephews who she believes will carry on the family business. However, she believes future generations will likely have other careers in addition to operating the orchard.
Currently 12 members of the Beckwith family work at the orchard along with about 15 others. In addition, there are seven individuals who lead school tours. “We have about 4,000 people come through each fall,” says Sally, who adds that groups range in age from preschoolers to senior citizens and “Red Hat” clubs, though the primary school tour groups are preschool through second grade.
Beckwith is not a pick-your-own orchard, but visitors are welcome to stroll through the orchards and shop in the on-site farm market and bakery. And visitors should come hungry because at Beckwith Orchards they believe sampling is key. “Let your tongue and teeth tell you what you’re going home with,” Sally advises, quoting her father’s old saying. “Some people come in looking for the same variety name. If we don’t have them, we like to slice some of the newer varieties that they haven’t been introduced to yet.”
Although Beckwith Orchards is certainly known for the many apple varieties grown on site, they harvest much more than that. They also grow peaches, plum and pear trees as well as 15 acres of field corn and a 20-plot community vegetable garden run by the Kent Garden Club. The vegetables are mainly for the gardeners’ consumption, but any leftovers are sold in the market along with a few items that are not grown on-site. “If we don’t grow it here, it’s from as close by as possible,” Sally says. “We try to support Portage County and Ohio farmers. We focus on selling things really fresh and in-season.”
The number of apples and other fruits Beckwith harvests varies depending on the season. For instance, 2008 was a very strong crop, and 2009 appears to be strong as well. Other years have not always been as good. “Bad weather in April could cause you to lose a fair amount of your crops,” Sally explains. Before being sold, all the fruit from the orchard is washed, graded and sorted according to size. Those that don’t make the cut are sold as seconds, or baking bargains.
In addition to the market and orchards, visitors can enjoy Beckwith’s corn maze, which takes up about 3 acres of the property. At $2 per person, it’s inexpensive entertainment, and Sally says this year’s maze is the most difficult one they’ve had. Although the family does not have a pumpkin patch, they bring in local pumpkins, gourds and Indian corn, and all are available in the farm market.
Beckwith Orchards is open seven days a week from Aug. 1 to Dec. 24. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. until Nov. 1, when the orchards begin closing at 5 p.m. due to the daylight-saving time change. Beckwith hosts various festivals throughout the season. For details, check the events page at www.beckwithorchards.com or call 330-673-6433.