From a few scraggly shrubs for sale outside his great grandfather’s York-based grocery store to 500 acres of evergreens across five Pennsylvania counties, Gerry Strathmeyer’s last name has become synonymous with Christmas trees.
But when a 98-acre pick-your-own fruit orchard went up for sale last year in Seven Valleys, Gerry and his business partners were ready to branch out into a new adventure.
In June 2021, he opened Orchard Valley Farm and dove into what he thought was a turn-key business.
It turned out to be a bit more involved.
“Needless to say, it needed some work,” Gerry says. “Last year was more of a ‘scratch your head, figure out how to do things.’”
‘Learning as we go’
A community gathered around Gerry to help give the orchard a boost.
Penn State Extension Agent Dr. Daniel Weber helped graft new honeycrisp apple cuttings onto old red delicious roots.
Barron and Jana Shaw of Shaw’s Orchards and Julie Keene of Flinchbaugh’s Orchard guided them through the day-to-day.
“We’re learning as we go,” Gerry says, plucking a handful of bright rainier cherries off a tree.
Former owner Stan Brown painstakingly planned the varieties of each orchard to ensure something was always ripe from May through November, Gerry says. Strawberries open the season, phasing into raspberries and cherries, then peaches, apples, and finally pumpkins.
Do unto others
To help get it all done, Gerry brings in migrant workers from Mexico through the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Workers program.
“Because of the exchange rate, they’re able to make money up here that changes lives down in Mexico,” he says. “These guys up here are supporting not only their immediate family but possibly their aunt, uncle, in-laws … we’re able to help those people.”
He’s even seeing sons of those workers make their way to his farms.
Over the years, the Strathmeyer family has helped build a church in the Mexican hometown of some of his workers. They’ve also helped several workers earn their United States citizenship.
“Treat others like you want to be treated,” Gerry says. “That’s one of the things Dad always instilled in us, and we always try to do the same. Oftentimes when you give back, then you yourself get lifted up.”