Family farm at its finest!
I lived all my life in Delaware, but never visted Fifer Orchards in Camden, Delaware until three years ago, when I began to assist with a University of Delaware course, Understanding Delaware Agriculture, taught Mark Isaacs, the director of the Carvel Research and Education Center where I work.
When the course began in 2014, Isaacs included four field trip tours to show to students the diversity of careers and businesses within Delaware’s large agriculture umbrella, and moreover, to meet and network with the owners and managers of the businesses. Despite an early Saturday wake up time, the tours were well-received by students and have remained as part of the class schedule ever since. Fifers was one of the stops, an ideal family-run business encompassing four generations of family farmers, a fresh market wholesale business, a robust agrotourim location, a fruit orchard, a retail market, a CSA (community supported agriculture) subscription offering, all managed with a keen understanding of the importance of traditional and social media outreach.
Despite descending on them during one of their busiest seasons, the Fifer family welcomed our bus of UD students, taking the time to host tours of their fields and facilities, answering questions and sharing the challenges and rewards this forward-thinking family encounters every day in managing their farm.
Fifer Orchards tills approximately 3,000 acres in Kent County, all for the fresh produce market. The move away from growing for processers was a deliberate one, requiring the family farm to invest in the additional cost of labor needed for the hand harvesting required for farm-to-market. Fifer’s largest crops are pumpkins and sweet corn.
An early adaptor to voluntary Good Handling Practices (GHP) and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) which focus on food safety, Fifer Orchards was well-positioned to supply major national retailers who require stricter food safety guidelines from growers. Fifer’s is currently underway to achieve a global food safety certification.
According to Fifer Orchards’ website, the business supplies:
- Grocery stores – Wegmans, Giant, Whole Foods, Walmart, Harris Teeter, and others
- Local food stores and CSA’s – Lloyds IGA, Zone 7, Hockers Market, Common Market, Janssen’s Market, and more
- Local wholesale to regional roadside farm stands, distributors, and CSA’s such as Greensgrow and Norman’s Market.
- Weekly Farmers’ Markets – Rehoboth Beach and Lewes
- Fifer retail locations – Country Store (Camden-Wyoming) and Farm Market Cafe (Dewey Beach, DE)
- Fifer CSA Program – Community Supported Agriculture
- Local Delmarva restaurants
- Delaware Schools
In addition to corn and pumpkins, and their traditional orchard crops of peaches and apples, the Fifer family experiments with a wide variety of crops that fill in the gaps after tradtional crops are harvested. This enables their contracted labor to remain on the farm and rely on steady employment across what Fifer’s have designed into their increasingly extended growing season.
Certain crops, such as weather-dependent strawberries, are hit and miss. Fifers changed from growing tomatoes directly in the field, moving to high tunnels. The move allows Fifers to offer tomatoes earlier than any one else in the area. The family meets regularly to evaluate what crops should enter into a trial as a possible hedge against another crop not performing as expected. They keep a close eye on market trends and consumer interests.
The move to supply to the fresh produce market, both via wholesale and retail, recognizes the public interest in buying and eating local food. The success of their CSA subscription program, the “Delmarva Box” is a result of the trend toward the local movement.
Subscribers of the spring/summer and fall Community Supported Agriculture club receive regularly scheduled deliveries of a box, loaded with seasonal goodies from the Delmarva region. Fifer’s supplies what it can, and includes other local niche produce or local value-added products to round out the offerings. “We try to include things they aren’t expecting, or may not see in their grocery store,” says Bobby Fifer. “We will include information and suggested menus for that item.” Different subscription packages are available.
Agrotourism plays a large role and is a popular destination for families, particularly during autumn. Six Saturdays in the fall are devoted to Fall Fest, and children delight in the corn maze and other amusements. Fifer’s retail store is inviting. Interior aromas to die for, and outside in the late summer and early fall, an array of pumpkins and specialty pumpkins and gourds will dazzle the most discerning of home decorators. The agrotourim outreach, managed by cousin Michael Fennimore, enjoys a superb and responsive social media presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@fiferorchards). Follow them! You won’t be sorry! Fifer Orchard also has seasonal locations in Dewey Beach and at the Historic Penn Farm in New Castle, Delaware.
Tradition. Family. Forward thinking. Connected to the community. These elements and much more are why Fifer Orchards has expanded and grown to serve consumers who want safely grown and harvested fruits and vegetables, and a community who craves local sourced food. Employing both local and contracted labor, Fifer Orchards contributes to the Delaware economy, and offers to the Delaware community, a lasting, wholesome experience you are not soon to forget.
Enjoy these pictures taken September 17, 2016: