In 2019, the Pennsylvania Agricultural Business Development Center (ABDC) was created by the commonwealth’s legislature. The ABDC’s goal is to safeguard the long-term vitality of Pennsylvania farms by focusing on providing support for sound business planning, efficient transitions of farm ownership, strategic farm expansion, diversification of agricultural production and supplying both financial and technical expertise to Pennsylvania farmers.
One of the ABDC’s initiatives is a series of grants for veterans turned farmers. Joseph O’Hara of Bloomsburg was among the first class of the center’s grant recipients.
O’Hara, who served as a cryptologic technician in the U.S. Navy from 1982 – 1986, founded OHF Orchards in Bloomsburg, PA, in 2013.
“I own 52% of the business,” he explained. “I also have two partners. One is Gino Ardo, and the other is my son Patrick O’Hara.” The U-pick operation dedicates 110 acres to growing apples, 25 acres to peaches and several other acres to pears, plums, nectarines and cherries.
“As for varieties, we have 23 different kinds of apples, though by far we have more Honeycrisp and Gala than anything else. We have yellow, white and donut (also called ‘flat’) peaches. And we do have both sweet and sour cherries,” O’Hara said.
The business has found a great deal of success in its first 10 years, and O’Hara is not the first member of the family to be recognized for his hard work. Several years ago, his son Patrick was named a “Young Apple Leader” by the U.S. Apple Association. The orchard produces approximately 40,000 bushels of fruit each year.
In addition to the orchard’s on-site customers, OHF also sells its produce wholesale and at a number of farmers markets. “We regularly attend markets in State College, Mountain Top and Stroudsburg, all in Pennsylvania, as well as a nice one in Barryville in New York State,” O’Hara said. He estimated the radius of his business to be about 90 miles.
Detailing his plans for the $9,650 grant he received, O’Hara spoke about expanding the scope of his business. “We’ll be building a 12-by-15-foot building. It’ll be our farm store. The structure will house a merchandiser fridge for our cider and donuts,” he said.
He chuckled his way through this next part: “It’ll be powered by a generator, because it’ll have to be. We’re quite literally in the middle of nowhere!”
O’Hara pointed out that this will be the orchard’s first foray into on-site retail sales.
O’Hara will be constructing the building in pieces before bringing them all together for final assembly. He said that he expects the project to take from late January to mid-May.
To learn more about O’Hara’s orchard, visit facebook.com/ohforchards.
Farmer Veteran Grants
O’Hara is part of the first class of farmers in the Keystone State to receive funding from the PA Farm Bill’s Farmer Veteran Grant program. Pennsylvania Ag Secretary Russell Redding said at the recent PA Farm Show, “More than 7,000 Pennsylvanians are veterans who continue to serve their communities through agriculture. We honor these heroes and thank them for their choice to join our strong and diverse agricultural workforce.”
Through the PA Farm Bill, the Ag Department awarded $200,000 to two veterans’ service organizations. Grants of up to $10,000 have been awarded for various ag business needs ranging from food safety and biosecurity planning to equipment, marketing or working capital. The PA Veteran Farming Network announced 11 recipients in early January who earned a total of $93,525.
The PA Farm Bill also increased support for the PA Preferred® Homegrown by Heroes program, which helps farmer veterans market their locally grown products to feed consumer demand.
by Enrico Villamaino
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