Change is constant in an orchard. We grow many different fruits, and there is always change about us: a new planting, a different tree in bloom, another fruit to thin, a different fruit to harvest, winter pruning. But just as each of these chores has its beginning, all of these chores eventually end. It is a constant cycle of activity that repeats itself each year, until it ends.
And all things come to end. This year my neighbors decided to end their fruit business. At one time, they were the largest orchard in the area, probably the county. But like almost all orchards, they have reduced acreage over the last few decades as wholesale profit margins have diminished, labor becomes harder to find, and long-term sustainability becomes more uncertain.
As they stand at the edge of retirement, they look forward to more time, more freedom, and less responsibility. Life is short, and the sudden death of a beloved farming neighbor has reminded all of us that, as my father says, “life is not a dress rehearsal.”
But I of all people know how difficult this process has been for them. We fruit growers are long term planters. After all, the life span of a tree in an orchard is about the same as a child in a home. And sometimes, for better or worse, we make connections to our trees that can be almost as hard to break.
So I am saddened by the loss of an orchard. Saddened that a family tradition like my own has ended; saddened that the horticultural assets of our industry, namely our trees, are so unprofitable that our fields may be worth more without the trees than with them; and saddened that it is not unlikely that I too may face the same day as my neighbor.
If that day comes, I hope I handle it with as much fortitude and certainty as he has exhibited.
For now, as the season closes, I am thankful to be done with the labor of the year, and am working on planting plans for future years. It is the time of the year for me that new orchards are conceived, and those connections to the land become more deeply rooted. For today, I’d prefer to focus on new beginnings.
Endings are just hard.