Should I buy an orchard?

So here’s this…

The local orchard, 2 miles from my house, is shutting down.

Styer’s Orchard

This is heartbreaking for me. But here’s the deal. The land is owned by the township, who bought it from the original owner, Mr. Styer, so that it wouldn’t become another housing development. I spoke the someone at the township today who explained that even though the township owns the property, it is run by Heritage Conservatory. The farmer pays the township monthly and gets to keep the rest. The township guy said the old farmer is auctioning off all his old equipment and leaving and as of right now no one knows who will run the orchard.

I have butterflies in my stomach. The township guy told me today he will reach out to the conservatory and get back to me. I at least offered to help do whatever I can (pick a bunch of free awesome fruit) until they find a real farmer.

Whew. I’ll keep everyone posted.


I’d stay in data collection mode and make detailed plans for how you would use/change the orchard in the event of purchase.

I grew up right in that area, was wondering why Styers rang a bell.

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Looking at the map that’s quite a bit of property and multiple orchards. Buying it as an apple orchard would be a huge step. I’d think long about it if it could be developed. But buying it to make a living growing apples, that’s a whole different story. The trees look scattered. Probably needs a huge investment to get back into good production.


It is all pick your own. They have apples, peaches, nectarines, apricots, some plums. They grew pumpkins, corn, eggplants, tomatoes, and other veggies, but all pick your own. The prior owner told me some of the apple trees are over 50 years old. The place was always packed and I don’t want to get into the personal reasons the previous owners are leaving.

I know I am nowhere close to an expert at this stuff, but honestly, is anyone an expert fruit grower until they do it for a while. I know basics and I think I know more than the average Joe.


It depends so much on your personal circumstances that it would be impossible for anybody else to answer this question for you. I would just say that a hobby and a full-time job are two completely different beasts.


Totally. I should rename the thread. It’s just so exciting that this could really be a possibility.

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I understand your excitement - could be the opportunity of a lifetime. No doubt some type of thorough financial analysis is required and ultimately it comes down to the numbers and the terms. This orchard is about 100 times bigger than what I do so I have a little trouble even understanding the potential problems and opportunities. I looked at the google map, their website and Facebook page and saw a lot of things I liked but I could not judge the condition of the orchards and the condition of the farm market.

Great location close to lots of housing and potential customers
Large farm market on busy highway
Pond for water
Buildings that looked like cold storage or packing facilities
Trees looked pretty good but with some voids.
Almost 8000 Facebook followers
Some agri-tourism events already in place

The potential downside is that it is a large operation and will require a lot of manpower and a lot of working capital to get started. The orchard production skills can be learned but prior business management skills would be important for success. You can bet the management time and effort required will be huge with lots of 80 hour weeks. If the farm market, commercial kitchen and refrigeration are not in good condition its will take a bundle of money to put them in order. I’m guessing you are looking at a multi- million dollar operation in terms of sales. As a general rule of thumb you need to gross at least 20K/acre of production to make money.


I just found out about this yesterday when we discovered the people who run it now are auctioning off all their equipment. My wife and I were worried they would build a housing development so that’s when I called to find out the deal. I’ve been to this place probably 50 times. There is no cold storage that I know of. Whatever didn’t get picked in pick your own falls to the ground and rots. The land is leased to the farmer through the township. The guy I spoke to from the township said he thought it was $1500 a month and the farmer keeps the rest.
I know they had three people working there in the open seasons, and some high school kids in the summer. They offered free wagon rides to the fields, which seemed like a big drawl.

Thanks for looking into it for me. The place is a staple around us and as of one hour ago, the township doesn’t know what they are going to do.


If it’s your dream, and you can legitimately do it without endangering the financial well-being of your family: pull the trigger.

It is also easy to get swept up in the emotions of stuff like this. Believe me, I know exactly how you feel! I’m hunting for property right now as well. I’m never going to be the guy to poo poo entrepreneurs, but since we’re not emotionally connected to this, let us give you some things to think about before you do:

  1. Buying the farmers equipment at auction, doesn’t mean you’re buying the right to keep farming the land.

  2. After some Google-fu it looks like this is 109 acres, that the township bought in 1999 for $2.4 million. So it is going to be CONSIDERABLY more expensive now. Are you trying to buy that land or hoping to take over the rent @ $1500/month? I would be very skeptical that you’ll get that sweetheart deal, especially without going through the bidding process where you’re up against people with commerical experience.

  3. As much as we both hate it, 109 acres divided up into 1/4 or even 1/10 acre lots with McMansions on them is a lot of money, especially in that part of the country. So you’re competing with deep pocketed real estate developers. I’m honestly hoping your local politicians are brave enough to resist that temptation, but just think of the shiny new community center they can build with their names on it, if only they would sell…

But again, if you’re in the financial situation to do it safely, bless you for being the kind of person that would spend their money producing good food. I’m rooting for you!

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So they can’t sell it for houses. It has to be a farm and a pick your own at that. It is run through the Heritage Conservatory as open space. The story goes something like…Pa Styer started the farm. His two sons tried to sell it out from under him to build houses, something in the millions but Pa Styer loved his land and made this deal with the township to give the township the land as long as it remained a pick your own. So yeah, the director of parks and rec for the township, who I spoke to today, said Heritage Conservatory is looking for a farmer to take over. He told me Heritage gave the prior farmer a sweetheart grant to get his equipment and he told me the month rent “was something like $1500 a month, but not exactly sure and the farmer gets to keep the rest.” So I’m not competing with a housing development and I’m not trying to buy the land. They lease the land with a five year renewal so I assume after five years one could opt out.

I guess I could be up against people with commercial experience, but as of today, they have no one to run the land and they don’t want to leave it unattended all summer.

I volunteered to at least help this year if needed. I’m waiting to hear back from the township about what the next step is.

Thanks for looking into all those details, and yes, I am very excited. I went through this orchard many times and told my wife many times, “I could run this place better than this.” I currently have an easy job and make real good money, so it’s hard to pack that in for a risk, but man it would be awesome!


I’d talk with a local attorney asap to help you assess legal and financial risk, liability (a pick your own customer falls out of a tree), lease terms, etc. See if you can get your hands on the last farmer’s profit and loss statement.

A five year lease is not a long time especially if you make capital improvements, buy equipment, etc. Make sure you can terminate lease early if it’s not working out for you. See if last owner would be “on call” to give advice, guidance- paid or unpaid. If orchard has a Facebook page, see if you can take over that page and retain all the people who “liked” it.


This sounds very similar to what happened to my Uncle’s farm in Leominster MA. (Was “Fitzgerald Fruit Farm” is now “Apple Hill Farm.”)

I was young when told this story, but the gist should be pretty accurate. My uncle farmed it, wanted to continue doing so, and thought his family would pick up the keys to the tractor someday. He made a deal with the city to minimize his property taxes in perpetuity at the expense of making the land undevelopable. It worked great for awhile.

Eventually, Chinese apples ruined the market. Property values skyrocketed in New England but not for land in conservancy. He passed away and nobody in the family wanted to throw their money away farming.

I think the land went to the school district for awhile, the trees suffered, and eventually, a wedding venue found a way to use the land. I think a restaurant assumed control of some of the property at some point as well. Really not sure, though.

Now, I’m getting into apple growing/cider and my mother is intrigued by the situation. I think, deep down, she wishes I could have somehow picked up the keys to the tractor and most importantly, ended up in New England. There are tons of reasons why that couldn’t work and wouldn’t have been right, but yeah, the thought of the farm living on and in the family is inviting.

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Jim, No matter how it turns out it’s an exciting possibility! Sounds like you’ve imagined this happrning - how fun then to watch it unfold. Dreams do come through! If you and your wife want it I’m sure it will succeed for you. Since it’s a popular place i wonder if a “Friends of the Farm” group might evolve to help out here and there. Change can be good for a place. No matter what happens, hope you enjoy the anticipation. Sue

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I think you should follow your dreams man, I would set up a LLC to lease through and it would be worthwhile to have a laywer look it up. 18k/yr would not be that much for that much land and I assume through selling the extra produce, growing pumpkins and hosting events like weddings and other outings you would be able to get that back and more. Maybe you could find a few like minded partners with similar interests to reduce your cost / time

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Follow your dreams.If you do not at least try you will probably regret NOT doing it more than doing it. Go for it!!

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If you ever thought you might want to do this, leasing a pre-planted plot like this with an already existing customer base is about as low-risk a way to get into it as I can imagine. Seems like you could get it going with a relatively modest amount of money considering how much it would cost to start from scratch… Probably there are even some locals around who can walk you through everything and be super-helpful. Those other people weren’t doing it all themselves for sure.


A rough count gives me something over 1000 trees. That’s a nice sized orchard. The only comment I’ll make is that if you decide to pull the trigger, you want to be at the auction to take a serious look at the used equipment to run the orchard.

You can’t run the orchard with no equipment. If you have to buy new equipment it’s going to be very expensive and perhaps cost prohibitive. If you hunt around for used equipment after the fact, there’s a good chance the used equipment you find will need rebuilding.

Typically, you are probably going to be better off buying the equipment the previous owners were using, if it’s in decent shape. It’s possible they didn’t maintain the equipment very well, and may be worn out, but you definitely need to check it out.

For my orchard, I’ve spent several years buying equipment which fits my orchard. I’ve had to rebuild it all. I take care of my equipment and it’s the right size for my operation. So it sort of goes hand in glove with the orchard.


Basically, the cost of the land input is removed. That’s huge.

There must be a way to insure a U-pick operation, otherwise no one would do it. Nevertheless, I would stick to dwarf/ semi-dwarf orchard.

A five year term with no right of extension is problematic, considering that it takes about that long to bring a new apple tree into meaningful production. Perhaps a renewal clause based on planting and investment milestones is in order. at least a buy-out clause for your capital investment, if nothing else.

As LT Cider suggests, agritourism is huge. Make sure you configure a section of the orchard to stage weddings. I don’t know what blooms in June in your area, but plant it. I bet an active wedding planner in your area would have lots of good ideas.

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Thank you all so much for all your input and encouragement. My wife says its a go if reasonable. I’m waiting for a call back from the Heritage Conservatory. I’ve looked up government grants for first time farmers and started thinking about what my next steps would be…Penn State Extension, other orchards near by, all of you who are incredible people with so much insight.
I plan to go to the auction on June 1st. This is a difficult situation because I doubt I’ll know if this is possible before the auction. Hopefully I can find out something soon or else I would be shopping around for equipment.

I would not try and run it as an organic orchard, which there is one of those not too far away. I feel spraying an orchard with chemical control is something I would need to know more about as I have been happy with organic means so far. I would also need to add more trees. So exciting! I’ll be looking for input on this for sure.

So as of right now I’m super excited. If this strangely and by fate works out, I’m going to do it. I could still live in my house and bike to work. Get rid of my car. It’s plain to me I would rather spend my time outside working then in a office. Keeping my fingers crossed.


I agree that agritourism is huge and there may be opportunities to monetize this land beyond the current you-pick orchard. Someone suggested creating a wedding venue, and planting June-blooming flowers to enhance the space… that’s a great idea.

Personally, my approach to maximizing income with an orchard like this would be to organize seasonal events… maybe an Easter egg hunt in the spring, pumpkin patch / hay rides / maize maze in the fall.

Also, perhaps start a diverse collection of flowers that bloom at different times throughout the year (iris, hydrangea, azalea, lilies, dahlias, peonies, lilacs, etc) to add interest for those not as interested in fruits.

I think this an amazing opportunity that you’re obviously incredibly excited about! I wish you the best of luck and hope I can visit someday.

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