A feature from the 2023 Farm Prodcuts Guide.
Lewis Barnard, the 4th generation owner of his family's nearly 300-year-old farm, thinks about the past a lot as he walks his Kennett Square farm greeting old and new customers. Barnard's Orchard, known for its rows of pick-your-own apple trees, greenhouses full of freesias and snapdragons, and welcoming on-farm store, is a beloved institution in southern Chester County.
Honoring the past was especially important to him and his extended family in 2017 when they needed to settle his uncle's estate, a situation which had immediate financial implications for the business.
"I respect the sacrifices of older generations," says Barnard, who lives in the white farmhouse built from logs that were floated down the Susquehanna River and milled onsite. "There are still initials carved into the posts in our greenhouses from employees who kept the business alive through the Great Depression. We wanted to preserve this farm in honor of all the people who made difficult decisions and worked through tough times to bring us to where we are today."
Working with The Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County (now a part of Brandywine Red Clay Alliance), the Chester County Challenge Grant Program, Chester County's Agricultural Land Preservation Program, and the Marmot Foundation, the Barnard family was able to preserve the property for agricultural use in perpetuity and work through the details of the estate.
Barnard is deeply touched that the surrounding community also rallied together to help raise additional funds through pop-up food events and old-fashioned fundraising to help pay for the remaining costs of preservation to ensure the farm's future. Many of those who contributed are customers who bring their families to visit the farm year after year.
"Every season I have at least one person come up to me to shake my hand and say that they've been bringing their family here for over 30 years and thank me for making it possible," says Barnard. "I farm for them as much as I farm for me."
In addition to preserving the land, Barnard and his staff keep an eye on changing customer tastes to keep the business thriving. He grows plenty of perennial favorites like Stayman Winesap, Fuji, and Honey Crisp apples and is always on the lookout for new varieties, too. Today's apple eater values a crisp texture more than earlier generations, he says. He has also recently added berry bushes and field grown zinnias which have proven to be big hits.
Many customers say it's the farm's character and warm welcome that bring them back year after year. Says longtime Barnard's fan Lindsay Shroepfer of Exton, Pa.: "We love going to Barnard's Orchard because it feels like a hidden gem. It's never overly crowded, and we love its simplicity and charm."
"I like to keep it looking and feeling like a farm, and it turns out several members of the public like it that way, too," says Barnard.
In the end, the farm's success story is greater than Lewis Barnard's business acumen and tenacity alone. It's even greater than all the efforts of Barnard family ancestors who stewarded the land, its history, and abundant resources through the years.
"This farm has always been about all the people who have made this farm possible. The generations before me, the community that has supported us, all the people who have worked here. Everyone has been a part of it," says Barnard.
1079 Wawaset Road, Kennett Square, PA