Joe and Emily Nicholson, Sr. purchased Red Jacket Orchards from the Brownlee family in 1958. The Nicholsons previously owned and operate Nicholson’s Poultry Farm in Bethpage, NY (on Long Island) between 1943 and 1958 until they had to move to make way for the new Wantaugh-Oyster Bay Parkway. They purchased what was then Red Jacket Fruit Farms in Geneva, NY, 350 miles to the northwest of Bethpage. This land was well known for fruit production and was the site of a fruit processing plant and cannery in the late 1800’s.
Then, only a small mixed fruit and crop farm, the original trees were planted in 1917. When the Nicholson’s arrived, they planned on starting a nursery for ornamental shrubs and flowers. However, given the diversity of fruit already growing on the farm (including grapes, pears, raspberries, and strawberries in addition to apples) and the location, which was close to Geneva’s budding business district on a busy thoroughfare, Joe and Emily decided to try their hand at roadside retailing. The original stand was nothing more than an improvised shed with one window to display limited quantities of the various fruits being harvested.
The success of direct marketing to summer passersby along routes 5&20, then the major east-west route of New York State (prior to the NYS Thruway), led to the construction of a more permanent stand with large covered porches and a small cold room to keep additional stock. In addition to supervising the raising of five children, Emily ran the farm stand operation, with an eye to presenting the best quality fruit and making sure every customer left pleased with their purchase. Meanwhile, Joe Sr. saw to all the farms needs, all the while keeping an eye out for new varieties and fruits to introduce to customers in the stand.
The second and third generation of the Nicholson family currently grows, packs, processes, ships and distributes high quality fruits and juices from over 600 acres of modern orchards. We utilize Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices and specialize in growing high quality, flavorful fruit. The operation has grown to include 7 different farms located in an 8 mile radius from the packinghouse, which helps mitigate damage from severe weather events like hail and frost. Current plantings include approximately 375 acres of apples, mainly on dwarfing rootstock that allow for planting up to 1,100 trees per acre (the original orchards had approximately 75 large trees to the acre). These smaller trees play an important role in our integrated production strategy by not only improving sunlight and air movement to the fruiting wood, which helps reduce the insect and disease pressure, but also produce larger, more colorful and flavorful apples.
Selling our homegrown products direct to the consumer continues to have a significant impact on how we manage our growing operation. Our year round participation in New York City’s farmer markets, the Greenmarket, has lead us to greatly diversify the products we grow and harvest. Our remaining 225 acres are devoted to producing a vast array of summer fruits, including strawberries, raspberries, currants, gooseberries, sweet cherries, sour cherries, apricots, peaches, Japanese plums, and European prune-plums. Additionally, we grow a number of vegetable crops including rhubarb, hot peppers and tomatillos.
In addition to growing high quality, flavorful fruit, Red Jacket Orchards freshly presses a variety of unique, premium ciders, juices and nectars. Joe Sr.’s started pressing our delicious apple cider over 40 years ago and today we use those same time honored cider pressing techniques to make not just premium apple cider, but also a line of 100% fruit juices and nectars. We believe by simply pressing whole fruit (and never adding concentrate, sweetener, color or flavoring), we capture the full array of taste and nutrients of the fruit, resulting in juices that are not only healthy but also make you say, “WOW! That tastes amazing!”
The second and third generations of the Nicholson family are committed to continuing Joe and Emily’s tradition of delivering high quality products and excellent customer service, and look forward to building a company that provides consumers with healthy, wholesome flavorful farm fresh products. We believe if you do something, do it properly, and with integrity. We strive to emulate these values in all that we do on the farm, in the products we produce and among the community that surrounds us. We are passionate about delivering amazing flavor and quality that’s fit for our own family’s table.
Farmer Mike: Director of Farming Operations
Through the words of Farmer Mike
I didn’t grow up on a farm, but farming was always a part of my growing up. My grandparents, you see, were homesteaders. They grew corn, wheat, hay, and raised beef cattle on 600 acres in southeastern Kansas. While that might seem a lot to some folks, it was a small farm by today’s standards. They had eggs laid by chickens in their backyard, tomatoes grown in their large garden, and beef raised on their land. It was their home, not a factory. Although I was without a doubt raised a child of suburbia, those ten or so years laid the groundwork for my decision to become a farmer.
In the spring of 1984 a classmate of mine at Virginia Tech announced that his father was looking for summer help at their orchard. I wasn’t doing anything, so I signed up for what turned out to be the longest, hottest, and absolutely most rewarding summer I had ever experienced. I was hooked on farming. I spent the next 5 years (more or less) working those 1600 acres of peaches and apples. I learned much about basic farming, helped create standard Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices, and developed my own philosophies about sustainable agriculture and clean food.
I have spent the past 25 years learning about the good, bad, and the ugly residents of orchards since becoming a good practitioner of IPM requires one to know what the heck’s out there in the first place. There’s no argument that advanced IPM, organic, and biodynamic farming are the future of food production in the U.S…which brings me to Red Jacket Orchards.
Red Jacket Orchards has been around for 50 years and successfully established itself as a world class farm business. We grow about 600 acres of apples, stone fruit, and berries. Of that, our plums and apricots are certified sustainably grown by the Food Alliance. One of the reasons I joined Red Jacket Orchards was to implement advanced
IPM programs, in addition to farming some crops organically, and help certify more crops as sustainably grown.
Sustainability at all levels is a primary commitment of Red Jacket Orchards. Today and tomorrow, and every day thereafter, we are preparing for the next 50 years through our increasing commitment to sustainable business and farming practices. Look for us to transition more land to certified sustainable production and to include some acreage as certified organic.
I’m Mike, and I’m the new director of farming operations. Glad to be on board!!
Want to see pictures from the farm? Check out our flickr page!