Planning for the Future at Bachman Sunny Hill Fruit Farm
Location and forecasting are distinctions on this family farm.
Bachman Sunny Hill Fruit Farm started in Carroll, Ohio with a handful of fruit trees. Gregg Bachman’s great grandmother would take the fruit to town, he assumes as a way to help contribute to the family income at the time. Gregg is the fourth generation, and they’re about to pass the orchard to the fifth generation: Gregg’s nephews, Justin and Jordan.
What is the succession plan for your farm?
My wife and I bought another farm six or seven years ago and planted apples there. Now, we are working on two hand-me-down farms that we’ll pass on to the fifth generation – our nephews, Justin and Jordan. The one has been working here for about five or six years. The other one worked here in high school, went to do another job for a while but came back to the farm full-time in 2019.
What differentiates your farm from other farms?
Every Fresh Forward farm is family-run and multi-generational. Family is a big theme.
Our organization is the only one that is 100% wholesale. Everybody else has some sort of direct-to-market aspect. We sell everything we grow to someone else who then sells it to the end consumer.
Out of everyone in the organization, we’re the farthest south in Ohio. That’s an advantage because we’re able to start harvesting two or three weeks before other farms in the co-op. An additional three weeks on the market helps us and Fresh Forward.
How has Fresh Forward helped your business?
Fresh Forward is a farmer-owned co-operative driven by the farmers to help us run our business.
We solely rely on the co-op to market our entire crop, so we’re invested in the organization and the marketing they do. If it wasn’t for Fresh Forward, we wouldn’t sell a single apple. We don’t have a market or direct sales; everything we sell goes through Fresh Forward. We owe a lot to the organization.
In Ohio, our orchards are a lot smaller than other regions’ orchards, so combining our farms’ resources is a huge advantage to help us compete in the market. If it wasn’t for Fresh Forward, we couldn’t sell our apples to the big-box stores.
Certain locations are better for growing specific apple varieties. We can combine our strengths to allow our farms to produce their best varieties. This gives the consumer a wide variety and gives us a larger portfolio to take to the marketplace. We can be more specialized while remaining diverse. Some of the northern Ohio farms have had really good luck with Honeycrisp; we’re trying to get into that market as time goes on.
We also buy all of our packing materials and chemicals through Fresh Forward, which allows us to get a better price.
What’s the best part about being located in the Great Lakes region?
On our farm in particular, we can raise apples because we sit on a plateau. Warm air from the land around us helps protect our crops during frosts. If you go a mile or so from our farm, the elevation falls 400 feet – we wouldn’t be able to raise apples at that lower elevation.
We don’t have much competition within 30 or 40 miles of us because you can’t raise apples on a consistent basis. Another big advantage is we’re close to population areas. Our great grandma lucked out with a good location.
How do you give back to your community?
We ship some of our juice apples to other growers in our association like Grobe Fruit Farm. We’ll bring some of that cider back and supply the concession stand for local football and soccer games. That’s been a big hit in the past five or ten years. Our farm has been pretty big supporters of 4-H because our aunt is an advisor at our local school.
Fresh Forward has an annual fundraiser for Future Farmers of America. We supply our highest quality apples at the lowest possible price to help raise money for the organization.
How many varieties of apples do you have?
We have about ten varieties. We like to raise Gala. We’re getting into raising a lot more Fuji. There are different varieties that we do well – those varieties make up the biggest percentage of what we grow.
The marketplace decides a lot of what we grow. We adapt to what the consumer wants because, if you don’t, you’re going to get left behind – that’s all there is to it.
We’re testing out a small crop of some new varieties. There’s a new strain of Honeycrisp that’s redder that we hope we can grow well. The trees are only two years old, so we’ll find out if the crop is successful in another year or two.
What is the top skill necessary to be—or become—a farmer?
We’re trying to stay with the times. You can get behind really fast. Every year, we have to think about what we can do to help ourselves ten years from now. That takes innovation, open-mindedness, and a willingness to work more. If someone could tell us what varieties the consumer would want 20 years from now, we would plant them.
If vegetable and grain farmers make a mistake on planning, it’s one year. If we make a mistake, it’s 20 or 25 years. In our office, we have a quote on our board that says, “Do today what will help your orchard in the next five years.” Everything we do is always planning for the future, the next generation, 10 or 15 years from now. What we do now doesn’t benefit us at the time. When we order trees, we don’t have those trees for three years. Once we plant them, we don’t crop those apples for another three years. So, you’re six years out from when you decide you want a plant variety to when you have apples to take to the market. Then, they’re in the ground for 25 years.
When you tell people you own/run an orchard, what are some of the initial questions they ask you?
Most people ask if we work all winter. That’s when we prune all our apple trees. We pack apples all winter. People think we can raise apples for seven months and then take the rest of the year off. I don’t know anyone who does that. We’d like to, but we don’t get to.
Growing apples is very work intensive. We usually end up having pretty open conversations to educate people. Often, people don’t understand the investment that goes into agriculture. Farming is a massive investment, which is why you’re born into it or marry into it – no one I know has deep enough pockets to start an orchard.
Does your family have a go-to apple-based recipe?
Our grandma is an excellent baker, and she’s passed down some of her recipes, but a recipe off the top of our heads – you’re asking the wrong people for that. Us three really enjoy eating, though.
Is there anything else you feel your consumers should know?
We really do care. We try to do the right thing. We take care of the land. When we put a product out there, we want it to be the highest quality and the safest product to hit the grocery stores for the customers to take home. We want this land to be passed down to our kids, our grandkids, and there on.
It sounds like the growing life really makes you all happy.
And tired. You have to love it if you’re going to do it.
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.