Sara and Bobby Hricko of Green’s Fruit Farm, in east-central PA, were searching for resources as they planned a new focus on sustainable practices and local markets for the orchard they have taken over managing from Bobby’s family. They first heard about the Eco fruit program from Schlegel Fruit Farm, a neighboring orchard that has been part of the program for many years. After searching for more info on the web, they contacted Red Tomato in early spring about applying to join the program.
Although it often takes several years to make the transition to becoming Eco certified, the Hricko’s growing practices and approach are such a good fit, they made the leap and decided to certify in their first year. They are one of two new orchards to be EcoCertified for the 2022 season.
“Sustainability and IPM practices are very important to both of us and we work hard to implement them wherever possible.…Since we employ many of the practices already, we have been looking for an IPM certification to help us in the marketing of our fruit and to give what we do a higher level of credibility in the marketplace,” says Sara Hricko about their decision. “After working through a self-assessment of the Eco-Apple protocols, we found that what we currently do on our farm and practices that we want to continue, align extremely well with the goals and the vision for the Eco program.”
The farm today involves four generations of the Green and Hricko families. Robert Green Sr. purchased the farm in 1944 as part of a bank foreclosure, and with his son, Bob, rebuilt the struggling business by experimenting with many enterprises including tomatoes, chickens, apples, and row crops. Eventually apples grew from a side venture into the primary focus of the business for Bob and his wife Joan. The farm then passed onto Mike and Julie Hricko (Green) and now onto their son Bobby and his wife Sara, who manage the daily farm operations.
Sara and Bobby are well prepared to take on the challenges of managing an orchard. Both grew up in Pennsylvania, and developed a strong love for its rolling hills and mountains, its winding rivers and placid lakes, and the picturesque farmland which carpets its countryside. They met in college at Penn State, where both studied plant science. Bobby holds a BS degree in Horticulture, with expertise in plant (specifically apple tree) nutrition, pests, growing, pruning practices and IPM. He manages the farm’s wholesale business, focusing on customer service, food safety and quality.
Sara holds a BS in Agroecology, minors in Plant Pathology, Entomology, Mushroom Science and Technology, and an MS degree in Plant Pathology, giving her expertise in plant diseases and insects, pest identification and Integrated Pest Management, as well as data processing and analysis. Her prior public library experience helps her bring customer service and marketing skills to the farm’s retail marketing.
“At Penn State,” Sara remembers, “we cultivated our love of plants and farming as we discovered many ways in which we could positively impact our communities and the environment.”
Their location is known as one of the best places to grow tree fruit in the state of Pennsylvania. The Hrickos are working hard to rebuild the farm infrastructure after many years. Although in the earlier years the farm sold most of their fruit to a packing company, as they rebuild the business, Bobby and Sara are working hard to sell more fruit locally to stores, farm stands and farmers markets.
On their 100 acres, they grow over 35 varieties of apples, both new varieties like Gala, McIntosh, Honeycrisp, Ludacrisp, Cortland and Empire, and heirlooms like Winesap, Rome, Arkansas Black, and Nittany. They also have more than a dozen varieties of peaches and other fruits.
“For us, building healthy, resilient agroecosystems and communities is a driving force in how we farm. This means that sustainability is in the forefront of our minds when making decisions; it steers our daily tasks. One example is our commitment to Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices. When faced with various pest and disease pressures, our goal is to use a combination of management strategies in contrast to relying solely on conventional chemical controls,” Bobby explains.
With new ideas learned at Penn State and from other growers, and with respect for the traditions of prior generations, the Hrickos are “excited to take over the family farm together, as a team. We have enjoyed taking on each challenge on our farm and utilizing our creativity to solve our problems in the most sustainable way possible.”