by Sally Colby
Successful farm businesses can often trace their origin to family members who were innovative and open-minded as they worked to improve the business. Tuttle Orchards, in Greenfield, IN is one example with third and fourth generation family members continuing the vision of Roy Tuttle.
Indiana had been a major apple growing state for many years, but a big freeze damaged many orchards and growers got out of the business. Years later, Indiana Cooperative Extension Service started to promote apple growing in the state, and Roy was interested in that program.
“We’ve been here since 1928, and I’m a fourth generation Tuttle,” said Ruth Ann Roney. “My great-grandfather (Roy) started the business in 1928. He was a salesperson for fruit trees – everyone had a couple of fruit trees in their back yard.”
“He started planting apple trees, and at that time, sold apples wholesale for processing,” said Ruth Ann, recalling Roy’s efforts. “Around WW II, they converted the dairy barn to what is now our farm store. In the 1950s, the family transitioned to a retail market for selling apples.”
Today, Tuttle Orchards includes 200 acres, with 50 acres in apples, 50 acres of vegetable crops and the rest in row crops and buildings. Although some of the apple orchards are older, many are newly established high-density plantings. “About three years ago, we put in another 4,000 trees,” said Ruth Ann. “Most of those are high-density.”
Most apples are sold retail; about half as u-pick and the rest through the farm store. “We have a large cider operation, so some of the apples go into the cider we make here,” said Ruth Ann. “We also sell a lot of apples to local schools – something they’re very excited about.”
Tuttle Orchards grows 35 apple varieties, eight of which are available for u-pick. The newly established orchards will also be u-pick.
When u-pick and market customers ask about the use of sprays, staff explain IPM and how Tuttle Orchards uses only what is needed to keep trees and plants healthy. “We developed a card that we hand out with the apples that explains what we do,” said Ruth Ann. “For most people, that’s sufficient.”
In addition to apples, Tuttle Orchards grows 20 to 30 different vegetables each season.
Tuttle Orchards maintains a popular tote, or CSA program, which features apples for both the summer and winter program. The biweekly winter tote, which is available from November through February, also includes fresh-cut greens from the farm’s high tunnels such as lettuce or spinach; along with other winter vegetables such as cabbage, arugula, turnips, carrots, parsnips, kale or other winter greens as available. Winter totes sometimes include apple cider, winter squash, persimmon pulp (for Thanksgiving week), Florida citrus, sweet potatoes or fingerling potatoes. When produce supplies are low, totes may include Indiana honey, sorghum, or Tuttle’s own applesauce or apple butter.
The summer tote program is available in two sizes and features summer produce and fruit. Tote customers can pick up at the orchard or pick up at one of several locations in the central Indiana area. Customers can visit the Tuttle Orchards’ website to see a listing and a color photograph of what will be included in the current week’s tote. Tote customers also receive information on how to store each fruit and vegetable and tips for preparing unfamiliar items.
In addition to orchards and high tunnels, Tuttle Orchards has greenhouses that are put to good use throughout the growing season. The greenhouses are open to customers during spring and summer. “We’re known for our hanging baskets,” said Ruth Ann, adding that they grow about 700 baskets each season. “We start planting hanging baskets the last week of February for Mother’s Day. Over the years, we’ve found out which plants look good together. We focus on heavy fertilization and size – these are large baskets by the time we reach Mother’s Day.”
“We’re growing for retail here, and we can grow larger baskets because we aren’t worried about transport,” she said. “That definitely draws people.”
Tuttle Orchards’ well-organized and attractive online marketing presence means more sales throughout the year. Customers can order gift baskets on line, find out what’s available in the farm store and learn about seasonal activities.
“Autumn is our busiest season,” said Ruth Ann. “We do about 80 percent of our overall business during those months, and draw from a two-hour radius.” Ruth Ann added that customers who travel to the orchard for fall activities often return for other products. “We do some targeted marketing in fall and try to do pre-sales for Christmas and CSA boxes.”
Third generation family members who are involved in the operation include Ruth Ann’s father, Mike Roney, who oversees greenhouse and vegetable production. Mike’s brother Tom Roney, who co-owns the farm, is the farm’s business manager and oversees apple production. Helen Roney oversees field trips and group events. “We host about 10,000 kids on school tours every year,” said Ruth Ann. “Helen takes care of all of that.”
Fourth generation family members include Ruth Ann, Thomas Roney who handles apple and cider production, and as a diesel mechanic, keeps farm machinery running. Benjamin Roney handles outdoor activities such as the corn maze and the kids’ play area.
Tuttle Orchards follows trends while keeping customers supplied with fresh fruit and produce and multiple generations take on the different roles to keep the operation running smoothly.
Following trends spells success for Tuttle Orchards
by Sally Colby