Steere Orchard in Greenville, RI integrated pest mgmt / GAP certified
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Greenville, RI - Father and son team Jim and John Steere are the third and fourth generation to run Steere Orchards, which has been a family-owned farm since Jim’s grandfather planted the first apple trees on his 30 acres of land in Greenville. Although the village is still referred to as “Apple Valley” from the days when it produced most of Rhode Island’s apples, Steere Orchards is the only working orchard remaining today. Jim modestly credits his grandfather’s choice of land for their long-term success, since the hilltop site is warmer and more consistently productive than other orchards in northern Rhode Island. In recent years, when late springs and early frosts hurt many other producers, Steere Orchards was not heavily affected.
While their farm stand is only open from August to December, the barn is home to a large cold storage area which allows Steere Orchards apples to stay fresh throughout the year. Jim and John sell at least half of the apples that they produce to wholesalers, including many local school districts. Farm Fresh Rhode Island’s Market Mobile program has been extremely effective for their wholesale business. John says he likes the traceability of the farm-to-business model, which allows him to see which restaurants and grocery stores are purchasing his apples. Jim appreciates that he retains more of profit than he would if he sold to a wholesaler. “Market Mobile changed everything,” he says, increasing the orchards’ sales while also providing a clearer understanding of the supply chain.
Growing interest in local agriculture has also brought customers from all over the state and even Massachusetts and Connecticut to the orchard in recent years. Steere Orchards has offered pick-your-own apples and peaches since the last 1950’s, but Jim says that it’s really taken off in the past few years. Families and school groups also come for hayrides, and they’ve begun hosting a two-day Apple Fest with live music, cider-making, and games over Columbus Day weekend. Thanks to the success of these agritourism efforts, they’re looking to expand and have more acres available for picking this fall.
While Jim and John are eager to credit others for Steere Orchard’s success, it’s clear that the driving factor is the amount of work that they put into running the farm. While they hire seasonal help in the fall, during the rest of the year it’s just the two of them maintaining 30 acres of land. They are committed to spraying as little as possible, which means carefully monitoring insect populations in accordance with the Integrated Pest Management methods that they’ve been using since the late 1970’s. Although it’s not an easy job, Jim and John both say that they love being outside and enjoy the balance between the busy fall and the quiet spring. They’ve turned down past offers to sell any of the land, and plan to keep the family business growing and growing.