Family Strives to Perfect Its Pick of Apples

1/1/2011 2:00 PM


Flinchbaughs Prep for Farm Show Fruit Competition

Charlene M. Shupp


Special Sections Editor

HELLAM, Pa. — While the dust might have settled on the Christmas rush, members of the Flinchbaugh family are not relaxing this week. Instead, they are preparing for another year of showing at the Pennsylvania Farm Show.

Their exhibit of choice, however, is not cows, pigs or sheep, but apples.

The family owns and operates Flinchbaugh’s Orchard and Farm Market in Hellam, just minutes off Route 30. The farm is operated by parents Ritche and Sonia, and children Michael, Andrew and Julie. Sisters-in-laws Katie A. and Katie M. Flinchbaugh complete the team.

The show, said Julie, is a great advertising opportunity. Although the Flinchbaughs actively advertise their products and business, sometimes it is that blue ribbon that gets people to visit their store, she said.

Also, the ribbons from the Farm Show and York Fair mean a lot to their current customers.

The Flinchbaughs will be exhibiting plates of apples, trays of apples and gift basket entries. Apple entries will be in the Main Exhibit Hall, near the butter sculpture.

Apple selection begins long before winter. Julie said they will set aside what looks like the best apples during harvest time. Then as the show comes closer, they will begin the sorting process to pull together the best sets to enter.

The art of sorting apples takes patience. Julie said when she was child, she could not understand what took her brothers so long in picking their apples. Then, one year it clicked that all of that work could mean a better placing.

When setting forth apples for display, the idea is to find a set of “ideal” apples, without blemishes, imperfections and of uniform shape.

The Flinchbaughs will spend hours sorting through apples trying to find their ideal set. The gift basket competition has benefited them as they continue to expand their farm store. By reviewing the winning entries, they can spot ideas to take home to include in their marketing.

The farm store is a relatively new addition to their multifaceted farm operation, started as the three Flinchbaugh children started to return to the farm after college in 2006.

The Flinchbaughs’ enterprise includes an orchard, grain crop farm and swine operation.

Each member of the family is responsible for a portion of the business. Sonia and Ritchie oversee the whole operation. Andrew manages the grain operation. Michael handles the orchard, and Julie is in charge of the farm market. Ritchie also manages the hog operation, and Sonia handles the farm accounting.

In addition, Katie A. manages a small bakery that supplies the farm store with seasonal baked goods. She also has a small flock of chickens and sells eggs by the dozen.

One thing the children say they appreciate is that, unlike many farm operators, their parents have begun the farm transition process.

The family’s transition planning began as the children expressed a desire to return home to the farm. Michael, Andy and Julie were required to work for a set period of time for the farm, but after the trial period was completed, they and their spouses joined the farm’s limited liability company or LLC.

Michael said he and his siblings appreciate what their parents did to make sure the operation was able to take on the additional generation. He said it was their willingness to advance the operation instead of remaining stagnant that made it possible for the extended family to join the business.

“They were willing to accept us as partners,” Andrew said, “not just have us work for them. They had to be willing to step back” from some of the responsibilities.

The farm is 1,400 acres, a mix of owned and rented property in York County. About 20 acres is in orchard, another 25 is for pumpkins and produce, and the balance is a rotation of corn, soybeans and wheat. The Flinchbaughs independently contract hogs and market their grain locally.

What they like about the farming arrangement is that members have individual stakes in the operation where they are “in charge,” but they work as a team to make the big decisions together.

Because they established an LLC, the Flinchbaughs had to develop a business plan. Andrew and Michael said the plan has helped the business and they believe business planning is important for any young farmer.

They recommend the AgBiz Masters program by AgChoice Farm Credit for farmers looking for help to write a plan. Michael and Katie M. are starting the first year now. Andrew and and Katie A. have completed the first year of the program and are starting the second. They said the step-by-step process has been helpful.

Katie A. said that even though her baking business is small, looking down the road, she can begin to plan out the steps to grow the business.

A business plan was also helpful to Michael and Katie M. as they competed and won last year’s state Young Farmer and Rancher Award from the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

Michael said filling out the application, which is based on the farm business, was easy because they had all the data together in their business plan in addition to their future goals.

Katie A. has also competed in the state’s Young Farmer and Rancher contests. Next week, she heads to Atlanta to compete the American Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer and Rancher Discussion Meet.

For more information on the Flinchbaughs’ operation, go to

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