Since 1948, the Simmons family has grown apples at Peace Valley Orchard, Inc., selling them in a farm stand to local families. Over the years, the business has grown and changed, but the family ties run deep – brothers and sisters working together to grow not only apples, but a sense of community and meaning in their orchards.
Talk a little bit about your family farming history
The family farm began in Pittsburgh, with Daniel Simmons’ grandfather, Daniel J. Simmons. He started growing vegetables and selling them off the bed of a truck. As the city expanded, the Simmons family felt the strain of sprawl and started looking for more land. They bought an abandoned orchard just over the Ohio border in 1948 and discovered they were great at growing beautiful, tasty apples. Daniel J. Simmons’ sons told their dad not to plant vegetables anymore; they preferred climbing ladders to pick apples rather than bending over to pick veggies. And so, he focused on apples and the rest, as they say, is history.
What makes your orchard unique?
According to Dano Simmons, Peace Valley might be the only privately operated orchard with five patents for apple trees – most notably, the Buckeye Gala. A lot of this innovation was due to his father, Daniel Simmons Sr., who took the initiative to secure the patents. And one of those patents helped send Dano to The Ohio State University in the 1970s. The patent was for the apple tree that grows the Law Spur Rome.
Talk a little about your processes
We were raised to do all the work ourselves, Dano said. We started working young and got a good work ethic and drive. The goal is to raise only high-quality apples – really grow the best ones. It’s easy to sell perfect apples. We get the work done here, we spray at the right time, we know when to prune and we do it ourselves. It’s that attention to detail and just intuitively understanding what needs to be done and doing it that makes a difference. We spend a lot of time outside and a lot of time in the trees.
What’s your seasonal growing schedule?
We mostly grow apples, although we now have 20 acres of peaches so we have those from July to August.
As for apples, we start harvesting the Lodi apple in July, it’s a tart summer apple. And from September to November, we have Buckeye Gala, EverCrisp, Fuji, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Red Delicious and Stayman Winesap.
We also have a sunflower field and we do agritainment, like a craft show. We want people here.
Tell us about the members of your modern family farm
For years, Daniel J. Simmons ran the family business, and he was succeeded by his two sons. One son eventually sold his stake to the other, and Daniel Simmons Sr. ran the farm for years with wife Mary before turning it over to his sons and daughters. Today, Paul is the orchard manager, Dano is the president and general manager, Carol Day runs retails sales and Virginia Gerner operates the defect sorter.
How has Fresh Forward helped your business?
We were one of the founding members, back when they only dealt with apples. In that time, all the farmers were selling against each other and only the grocery stores were benefitting. The coop helped us all work as a group to sell together with no competition. We sell 2/3 of our apples through Fresh Forward. Without them, we would not be here. It’s a vital part of our organization. It’s made us stronger over the years.
What is the future of the family business?
Where do we go in the future? I think we will continue for a long while. Of course, nothing is certain, but my nephew is great and has an interest in farming and we have a great group of employees. We’re not going anywhere for a while and we plan to continue this as long as we can.
What skills do you have that makes you successful at farming?
Family farms are intricate. You have to rely on each other. You are still a family, no matter what, at the end of the day. You have to have balance. Blood is thicker than water and I think the fact that we support and love each other – and respect each other – is what makes us successful. We play to each other’s’ strengths.
Peace Valley Orchards, Inc.
Peace Valley Orchards, Inc. is located at 5667 Adams Road in Rogers, Ohio. The Simmons family grows apples and peaches and also has a retail store with baked goods and other treats. There’s also a seasonal petting zoo, hay rides and a Christmas Open House.
Fresh Forward is a family farm cooperative representing members who grow, package and distribute apples and other produce across the Great Lakes region. Founded in 1957, our vertically-integrated organization continues to lead the way in buyer education, product brokering and purchasing, quality control and safety standards. We foster strong partnerships with produce growers who have cultivated their land for generation after generation. Together, we remain rooted in our commitment to deliver fresh, healthy produce to our consumers’ plates.