Family history and a love for apples – and pumpkins – run deep.
Grobe Fruit Farm started as a dairy and potato farm in 1905 and has grown with each generation. Today, Grobe Fruit Farm is operated by its fifth and sixth generations, including Laurie Grobe and Brooke Grobe, fifth and sixth generations respectively, who married into the Grobe family.
Can you tell me a little more about the history of the farm?
Henry Grobe’s wife was a dairy farmer. They worked together to start the farm with potatoes, then got into fruit and apples. They didn’t have a store or any kind of retail until the 1950s when Henry’s son, Walter, and Walter’s son, Bob, built the market out front.
Bob’s son, Jim, and his wife Annette started the pumpkin pile. We put pumpkins in a big pile under a tree in the fall, and that’s still very popular. Jim’s son, Allen, married Laurie. Allen and Laurie added a lot to the farm – expanding the farm market, putting in a commercial cider operation, installing computers and more. Now, we’re one of the biggest cider producers in the area.
Allen and Laurie’s oldest son Brett recently graduated from Ohio State and married Brooke in 2019. They’re expanding retail with a new market on State Route 301 in LaGrange. Both have business degrees, so they’re bringing their knowledge back to the farm. Brett’s younger brother Keith is a senior at Ohio State studying business, and he works on the farm on weekends.
What differentiates your farm from other farms?
The quality of our products. Our friendly staff. People like the idea of coming out to look at produce and pick what they want. Things aren’t just thrown around or handed to them. They’re able to pick out their own sweet corn. They’re allowed to dig through our bins of apples. We’re hands-on.
As far as operations go, we’re incredibly diverse. We do commercial apples, vegetables, apple cider and retail. We grow some grain on top of all that.
How have you streamlined traditional farming techniques?
We’ve made cider forever, but in 2007, regulations started to change. The local dairy farm pasteurized our cider, but they went out of business in 2007. We bought their equipment and started pasteurizing ourselves. That’s when we started selling wholesale cider, growing from 150,000 gallons to much more. We have someone to handle the pasteurization process. We also added holding tanks for our pasteurized and raw cider. Our bottling room is a lot more efficient now as well.
Our staff is key. That’s probably the biggest advantage – our team. Our employees are top-notch and we couldn’t do it without them.
What’s your seasonal growing schedule?
We start in the spring with vegetables and grains. We plant new crops of apple trees and try to bring in a few new blocks per year. From there, we move into maintaining frost on our crops. In July, we begin harvesting vegetables. We don’t open our retail stand until we have our own vegetables to sell, which is why we open in July. Through August, we start picking peaches and plums. And then in September, we start harvesting apples and pumpkins – and bottle cider. We’ll make cider until sometime between December and February. After February, we make cider for wholesale to help out whiskey and hard cider makers.
We continue packing apples until March or whenever we run out of apples to sell. It depends on how bountiful the crops are that year. The apples stay in a controlled atmosphere storage until so they stay fresh and crisp.
We start trimming trees in January, finish in about April, and then start all over again.
How do you grade your apples?
We grade our apples based on size and color. We remove any apples with blemishes and those get made into cider. Different stores want different sizes, colors and pack sizes. We have a computer sorter that tells us the color, weight and size of the apples so we can deliver what the stores want.
How has Fresh Forward helped your business?
It’s our co-op – instead of competing with other apple growers in Ohio, we work together to build orders. It’s made us all friends and good business partners. Many of us members are close enough that we can help each other with supplies, orders and trucking. If we can’t fill a full order for McIntosh, then the other farms can help us fill the rest of the order. Or we contribute Jonathan apples to an order and someone else supplies Galas. Fresh Forward takes care of the sales, so we don’t have to deal with that. We sell 95% of our apples through them.
What’s your favorite kind of apple?
Brooke: My favorite are Rosalee apples. They’re a MAIA variety, a cross between Honeycrisp and Fuji.
Laurie: My favorite apples are Fuji or EverCrisps.
What’s your most popular family recipe?
Laurie: My mother-in-law makes an apple slice delight that’s really fabulous, but she won’t share the recipe. My grandmother made a sour applesauce cake which is really good as well; it’s one of my favorites.
Brooke: I make a really good apple danish with cream cheese. I use crunchier apples like Jonathans or EverCrisps. You’re not supposed to bake with EverCrisp, but I do. For most people, I would recommend using Cortland or McIntosh, but I like a good country apple, so I’ll put an EverCrisp in my apple danish.
We grow a lot of sweet corn. My family recipe for corn fritters is really good – I love adding maple syrup.
In addition to corn, what other vegetables do you grow?What’s your favorite season and why?
Fall is our favorite season because we’re transferring from vegetables to fruit. Every day is different. We’re busy with apples and apple cider. Our retail stands are still open, and this time of year is active. Plus, there’s the fall colors, the pumpkins and the leaves.
What is the top skill necessary to be—or become—a grower/farmer?
You need to have good business skills. You have to work smarter, not harder. You can plant whatever you want, but it doesn’t mean you can pick it, sell it and make money off it. You have to do what’s right for your customers and offer what people want to buy.
When you tell people you run a farm, what are some of the initial questions they ask you?
Most people don’t necessarily understand what goes into it. They think we spend our time frolicking through trees. They sometimes ask us about apple varieties or how many trees we can fit inside an acre.
It’s hard to explain our line of work even to other farmers. Brooke comes from a family of grain farmers and it’s a whole different world – growing apples is a totally different part of agriculture.
A century-old farm with quality products in West Elyria
Grobe Fruit Farm is located on State Route 113 with additional markets in Amherst and LaGrange. Laurie, Brooke and the rest of the Grobe family keep tradition alive through the farm, ensuring customers get the best fruits, vegetables, and grains Ohio has to offer.
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.