Third generation now runs Stewartstown area business

From the 7/25/99 issue of York Sunday News.

By Barb Krebs

Shaw Orchards, located on the Mason-Dixon Line south of Stewartstown, is celebrating 90 fruitful years of success -- and a lot of change along the way.

In fact, change is the name of the game at the third-generation family orchard started in 1909 by Russell Shaw.

To win the game -- which in this case means keeping the business thriving -- Russell's grandson Glenn W. Shaw has had to embrace change rather than regard it with a suspicious eye.

"What sells is size and color. There are techniques we use now to improve size. Especially with peaches we do things like blossom thinning that we didn't used to do," said Shaw, who now owns and operates the orchard business.

And with the introduction of new varieties of apples and other fruits, growers find it necessary to plant new trees to keep pace with the market, he said.

Planting roots:

The Shaws know their orchard's roots well. It was Russell, then age 18, who had the idea to start planting trees in 1909 while working with his father, Calvin W. Shaw, at the Stewartstown Railroad and seeing apples packed in barrels headed for East Coast shipping ports. He thought the Shaws should plant apples on their farm to take advantage of this new export commodity.

Russell's young orchard prospered and was well-established when his son, Clay, took over the business in 1951. The industry saw many changes then, such as dwarfing rootstocks, which made trees smaller and their fruit easier to harvest.

The Shaws keep a piece of their early history on display in their farm market -- several of the barrels used to pack and ship apples in Clay's day.

"A small person had to reach into the barrel and place concentric rings of apples around the bottom," said Mary Sue Shaw, who has worked alongside her husband as farm-market manager for the past 20 years. "The barrel was then filled with loose apples and was inverted making the crowned end at the top so it would look pretty when it was opened."

Glenn Shaw, Clay's son, took over the business in 1973, concentrating on replanting with the most up-to-date varieties. Shaw said he was the first in the area to plant the Gala variety of apples, now a popular variety.

The Shaw's Civil War-era home sits just north of the Mason-Dixon Line in Pennsylvania. The old packing house, site of the farm market, and most of their orchards are located in Maryland.

More available:

The farm market has become diversified through the years. The Shaws now sell a wider variety of fruits grown in the orchards as well as local vegetables and homemade jams and jellies, apple butter and apple cider, baked goods, salad dressings, honey, and syrups.

"More is better. The more you have the more likely you are to be able to please the customer," said Mary Sue Shaw.

With the closing of some supermarket chains and the consolidation of others, the number of wholesale buyers is decreasing. Glenn Shaw said growers will have to become larger to compete in the wholesale market.

All of the country's growers are facing stiff competition from China where raising apples has become big business.

In addition to the fruit sold at their farm market, the Shaws supply a number of local stores and ship fresh market apples to a large Adams County packing house that packs and ships more than a million bushels of apples a year.

The processing apples used for juice and apple sauce are shipped to Knouse Foods in Adams County.


Fruit growers face many challenges, not the least of which is weather. Each year seems hotter and drier than the last, Glenn Shaw said.

With the current drought conditions, he is irrigating some of his trees, using water from a farm pond. He plans to begin pumping water from an old hand dug well that has never been used for irrigation before.

So far this year, the Shaws have not had to contend with hail -- the most dreaded weather problem of all for fruit growers. A hail storm has the potential to destroy the current crop and seriously damage the following year's crop, as well.

Finding farm labor is always a challenge when it comes to managing the 175-acre orchard, Glenn Shaw said. He has 15 full and part time employees, including migrant workers.

Bees, necessary for pollination are also sometimes in short supply in the orchard, he said. A local bee keeper has hives on the farm and, during peak blossom season, Glenn Shaw also rents about 40 hives.

Labor of love:

Despite all the potential problems with growing fruit, the Shaws say they love it.

"It's in our blood. Glenn was raised in the industry, and he's the happiest growing fruit," said Mary Sue Shaw. "There are challenges, but it wouldn't be as rewarding if it weren't quite so challenging."

Although the busiest time of the year runs from April until Thanksgiving, growers are under the most pressure during peach season.

"They (peaches) are so perishable. It is a lot of pressure. You have to pick them carefully and get them in without bruising them and get them marketed before they get soft. Apples are so much easier to handle," said Mary Sue Shaw.

Growers do more than harvest fruit. The trees are pruned at least once a year, and new trees are planted on an annual basis.

As the Shaws look ahead to the new millennium, they continue to research new varieties and techniques to trim production costs while continuing to please customers.

New marketing tools, such as the Internet, have increased their exposure. Under the management of their son, Barron Shaw, they have their own Web site --

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