by Sally Colby
McGlasson Farms has dubbed itself “your home for fresh fruits and vegetables,” and that’s what the McGlasson family aims to produce. Today, the sixth generation is operating the Hebron, KY, farm that was established in the mid-1800s.
Jack McGlasson, sixth generation grower, recalled how his great-grandparents sold fresh produce about 30 minutes from the farm in downtown Cincinnati. But as the area surrounding the farm eventually became more developed, it was time for a change.
“My grandparents built a roadside market at the farm in the 1960s,” said McGlasson. “It provided a steady source of income but it wasn’t real busy, and they still went to the market in Cincinnati. By the time my parents Lon and Ginny took over in 2000, they were getting so much more business at the on-farm market that we stopped going to Cincinnati.”
More changes came as Lon and Ginny became the primary operators. “Fall at the farm has been transformed since my grandparents were running it,” said McGlasson. “The focus has always been on fresh produce along with the apple and peach orchards. My parents cleaned up the on-farm market and made changes to enhance customers’ experience at the stand and focused primarily on fresh produce and the apple and peach orchard.” Although McGlasson and his brother Luke are the primary operators today, their parents remain active on the farm even as they begin to prepare for retirement.
Ginny and Lon spruced up the roadside market, started using social media and focused on direct marketing to consumers rather than selling exclusively wholesale. Although the farm has always sold some produce via wholesale outlets, the couple concentrated on the retail market.
As Lon and Ginny worked to create a positive experience for customers, they also started revamping the fall festival and arranged for local bands to play on weekends in September and October. They opened the farm for U-pick pumpkins and apples and focused on marketing directly to families, which has helped keep farm income stable over the years.
Part of the farmland includes a river valley, which provides excellent ground for crops. “We have 40 acres of flat fields that aren’t flooded by the Ohio River,” said McGlasson. “We also have a nice hillside where the old apple orchard is, along with woods. It doesn’t feel like it’s next to development. It feels rural and remote.”
McGlasson recalled that when he was young, the family picked fruit from full-size trees in the old orchards. “When my parents took over, my dad started to prune the old orchard, which is now about 30 years old,” he said. “We cleaned it up and started planting new blocks with full dwarf varieties and more modern varieties like Honeycrisp and Gala.”
Prior to establishing the new orchard, the McGlassons planted a variety of apples in a test plot to see which would do well. The new orchard is a mix of old and new varieties on dwarfing rootstock. “We did a lot of trial and error in the first 10 years to see which rootstock would work best here,” said McGlasson, adding that trees on M9 rootstock are performing well.
The new orchard, which is surrounded by deer fence, was established about a decade ago. McGlasson said people had been asking for U-pick for years and the old orchard works well for that. The old orchard includes apple classics people can’t easily find at the grocery store such as Jonathan, Winesap, Stayman, Rome Beauty, Gala and Idared.
Peaches are popular among consumers, although McGlasson said they lose the crop to a hard freeze about two years out of 10. “A couple years ago, we lost the whole peach crop,” he said. “We also lost apples – it was a late frost. But some apples in the old orchard survived due to the hillside and river valley.”
Since the peach orchard planted for U-pick isn’t quite ready, McGlasson and his brother are still working on ways to help customers understand how to determine ripeness for picking since some varieties have a lot of color but are still hard. The brothers also established small fruits for U-pick, including strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and blueberries.
The McGlassons grow an assortment of vegetables, some of which are started in a greenhouse. Two greenhouses help provide a jumpstart on the season. Peppers, tomatoes, squash, eggplant and cucumbers all benefit from supplemental heat. “We also grow red and white potatoes, sweet potatoes and sweet corn,” said McGlasson. “When my grandparents were operating the farm and I was young, the farm had acres of potatoes because they were popular. There was a big market for potatoes for years, but we’re growing fewer potatoes every year because people don’t buy them like they used to. We’ve diversified with fingerlings and some purple varieties to keep it interesting.” McGlasson added that as potatoes became less popular, sweet potatoes remain a customer favorite.
Vegetables like sweet corn, green beans, potatoes, fall squash, kale, eggplant and cucumbers are grown on the river bottom ground. Rather than growing melons, which proved to be challenging, the farm purchases melons from Indiana growers. McGlasson also grows an array of pumpkins including pie pumpkins, hard winter squash, gourds for U-pick as well as corn for decorative stalks. Deer are a problem for the pumpkins and squash, so the McGlassons erect temporary deer fencing to protect vulnerable crops. Luke takes produce to several farmers market throughout the growing season, and also manages the farm’s CSA. The CSA begins in early summer and runs through late October.
In addition to pleasing visitors with U-pick opportunities, some customers have requested event space. Although the farm isn’t yet set up to host events, the family is considering how to make this change. When customers ask about GMOs or organic production, the McGlassons explain their practices and find that most customers are satisfied with the answers. To help reply to customers’ questions, McGlasson is considering creating a one-page explanation of how they handle insects and disease.
Although there was no formal agritourism at the time, McGlasson recalled his grandparents had wooden cutouts on the farm for people to have photos taken. “They were onto something with that,” he said. “My parents have created an area people love and many have pictures taken there.”
A field of sunflowers for both photography and cutting has proven to be a popular late summer draw. In addition to large-headed sunflowers, the mix includes darker colors and shorter varieties for cutting.
McGlasson establishes cover crops when possible and has found that tillage radish and red clover work well. The primary holdback to establishing cover crops is late-season harvest without ample time for planting and initial growth. In some cases, an autumn crop such as mustard greens and turnips is established following green bean harvest.
Like other growers, McGlasson said the farm drew numerous customers during COVID because it was a good way for families to be outside. “Referrals and word of mouth have been the best advertising,” he said. “Customers who first visit the farm in fall are starting to come back the next season.”
Visit McGlasson Farms online at mcglassonfarms.com.