In 2014, NARBA member Awald Farms marked a major milestone, the farm’s 100th anniversary – plus Ed and Millie Awald’s 50th wedding anniversary. Add to that close to 20 years of membership in NARBA, and Ed and Millie have a long story to tell. This is from an article in NARBA’s newsletter, The Bramble, in Autumn, 2014.
Awald Farms is located in western New York, about 25 miles southwest of Buffalo in North Collins, NY. It was established by Ed’s grandfather, Edward Geiger in 1914. He and his son worked the farm as a mixed truck farm, generally wholesaling their crops. After they both died in 1960, the farm passed into the hands of Ed’s mother and her husband. Ed and Millie rented it from them starting in 1975, and then bought it from them in 1983.
Ed grew up working on the farm. As an adult, he also had a job as an Ag Inspector for the NY Dept. of Ag and Markets for many years. His father and grandfather grew raspberries to take to market, and in the 1960s, Ed convinced them to get into blueberries as well. In the 1970s, they started selling PYO. Says Ed, “My father also sold many raspberry plants, and after his death, we decided to expand as a nursery.”
Besides berries, Awald Farms raises pumpkins and a bit of summer produce, and their nursery offerings include grapes and currants as well as caneberries. Their main outlets for their plants are wholesale nurseries and other catalog nurseries but they also sell to commercial growers and home gardeners.
The farm has three locations, all about a mile apart: their nursery, their PYO fruit operations, and their fall pumpkin patch. The combination of nursery, fresh berries, and pumpkins means that the Awalds are busy year-round. They start the PYO season with strawberries in June, then summer raspberries and blueberries, then fall raspberries and pumpkins. Nursery plants are dug in the fall, before cold weather sets in, and put in refrigerated storage. During the winter, they go through the plants, grade them, and bundle them up, using mostly local high school students as labor. Inquiries and orders start coming in the fall, and packing and shipping take place during the fall. “Nursery busy is a different kind of busy from selling fruit,” says Millie. “There’s a lot of bookwork and phone calls.”
In their raspberry PYO plantings, Ed says they try to grow varieties that are the most hardy, productive, and have good quality fruit. Their season starts with Prelude, followed by Boyne and Killarney, then Latham, and purple and black raspberries in July. For the fall, they offer Caroline and Heritage. The Awalds are also always looking for new varieties to try to expand their offerings to their customers. This year, they have young plantings of the three new Cornell releases: Crimson Giant, Crimson Knight, and Double Gold. While these are yielding some berries this year, it will take at least another year to fully evaluate them.
Many of their customers come a long way, often from the suburban areas and small towns around Buffalo. Many customers note that they loved coming to Awald Farms as children, and now they’re bringing their children and grandchildren back.
Five years ago, the Awalds built a handsome retail market at the PYO location. Besides their berries, the market offers jarred and packaged products, crafts, baked goods, groceries, drinks, ice cream, and a grill with hot foods (like hot dogs and hamburgers). The market is open June through August, the period when their berries are ripe. Millie and Jamie both make crafts for the market, and the jams and jellies are made for them locally.
All seven of their children have worked on the farm in some capacity, either doing field work or helping sell produce in the farm market, and several are involved in various ways currently, from managing the PYO and market to helping with the website. We wish Awald Farms much success as they enter the next hundred years.
See their website.