8/24/2013 7:00 AM
By Marla Pisciotta West Virginia Correspondent
ROMNEY, W.Va. — Following the opening of the first ever West Virginia Peach Festival held Aug. 7-11, West Virginia Department of Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick toured Shanholtz Orchard, the largest orchard in Hampshire County.
Shanholtz Orchard is home to 100 acres of peaches and 100 acres of apples.
Garry Shanholtz, owner and operator, said he also grows plums, cherries and nectarines.
Helmick, Delegate Ruth Rowan and West Virginia University’s Hampshire County agriculture and natural resources Extension agent, Stephen Starcher, were treated to a guided tour by Shanholtz.
“Look at the size of those peaches,” Helmick said, pointing to one tree.
Each of the peach trees was laden with peaches. Apple production was equally impressive.
Some branches were propped up to keep them from breaking due to the weight of the apples.
Helmick talked about the necessity of using foods grown in West Virginia to feed West Virginians.
“The state provides for our prisons and the school system. We are importing food from other states when we should be growing it right here. We feed 6,000 prisoners three meals a day on any given day,” Helmick said. “West Virginians are spending $7 billion for out-of-state food. We’re not exporting, we’re importing,”
As the tour wound through rows of fruit trees, Shanholtz pointed out newly planted trees and some that were ready to be taken out and replaced.
Helmick said he was impressed with the 10-foot fence Shanholtz installed around the orchard to keep deer out. The 3,000 feet of fencing surrounds the orchard.
A tree full of golden delicious apples was pointed out to Helmick, which began a discussion as to its beginning.
“They were founded in Clay County in 1916,” Shanholtz said.
Helmick said he believed it was started by a family going by the name of Mullins.
Shanholtz grows over 30 different varieties of apples including red and golden delicious, Fuji, Yorks, suncrisp and McIntosh.
Pointing to a peach tree, Helmick asked Shanholtz the name of the peaches.
“Glowhaven. It’s an old variety we sell directly to the Amish people,” Shanholtz said, adding that he sends tractor-trailer loads of peaches to Amish in Ohio.
One tractor-trailer load contains 1,400 boxes. He also sends bins of apples to Ohio.
Shanholtz pointed out a large field of corn adjacent to the fruit trees. He explained that when corn is grown on a field for about two years, it actually cleans up the ground, ridding it of old roots and provides a nutrient that helps the trees grow better when they are planted.
Shanholtz Orchard produces 50,000 bushels of apples and 20,000 bushels of peaches a year.
“It varies from year to year,” he said.
The original part of the orchard business began in Levels, W.Va.
“I was born and raised in Levels. My dad bought a piece of land in 1952 that had eight acres of orchard. That’s how we got started,” Shanholtz said.
He took over the orchard in 1978 when his father passed away.
Shanholtz told Helmick that although he ships a large volume of fruit to Ohio and parts of Pennsylvania, “I sell the majority of my fruit right here, out the door.”
“Peaches are selling retail for $25 a bushel and $20 a bushel right off the tree,” he added.
Starcher said he believes Shanholtz Orchard is not only one of the premier orchards in Hampshire County, but also in the entire region.
“They are very innovative in terms of variety selection, they are always willing to partner with outside entities, including the West Virginia Extension Service,” Starcher said.
“As many times as I have been past the Shanholtz Orchard I had never imagined the abundance of fruit-laden trees just beyond the crest of the ridge behind the barn. There aren’t just peaches and apples, but varieties of peaches and apples, old standards and new varieties,” Rowan said. “Gary has kept his orchard a work in progress, never allowing the family business be just another nice place to grow fruit, but rather an innovative resource for the next generation of fruit growers.”
Shanholtz and Helmick have been friends for years, which goes back to when Shanholtz was a Hampshire County Commissioner and Helmick was a senator.
“When Walt was in the Legislature and Senate he always looked out for agriculture,” Shanholtz said.