60-plus year tradition continues at Burch Farms

By on September 25, 2017

For over sixty years, the Burch family has been growing fruit at their farm in Hilton and John Burch says he hopes the family will keep the farming tradition going well into the future.

“I have three boys working on the farm (Ben, Justin and Bayard),” he explains, “and a ten-year old granddaughter in Maryland who says she wants to come and run the farm.”

John’s father, Frank Burch, and brother, Hale, purchased their first farm together in the early 1950’s.  Hale had served in WWII and Frank, a veteran of WWI, grew up on a dairy farm and had worked in a canning factory in Hilton. Frank eventually became vice-president and plant manager of the canning factory before deciding to grow fruit.

John Burch of Burch Farms in Hilton stands in his Empire Apple orchard on Route 259 in Hilton. The Empires have slight nicks in their skins from a June hail storm. K. Gabalski photo

John Burch of Burch Farms in Hilton stands in his Empire Apple orchard on Route 259 in Hilton. The Empires have slight nicks in their skins from a June hail storm. K. Gabalski photo

The home farm is located on North Av-enue, not far outside the village. John says the family purchased another farm and incorporated in 1961.  John joined the team in 1965 after finishing college at Alfred State where he earned a degree in agricultural engineering/mechanics.

“I always wanted to come down and farm,” John notes of his love for growing fruit.  He started coming to work with his father every day at the age of six. Farm work has always appealed to him, he explains. “It was always more fun to drive the tractor.”

John’s brother, Hale, died in 1973, and his dad began to cut back on farm work at that time. John’s brother, Jim, joined the business in 1977 and in 1979, John and Jim bought two more farms. Today, the farm encompasses about 250 acres with most of those acres devoted to apple orchards.  The Burch family also grows peaches, nectarines, strawberries, sweet and tart cherries, raspberries, blueberries, currants and gooseberries and offers both U-pick and ready-pick fruit.

The popular autumn bulk apple sales under the tent began in 1985. “All the apples are the same price and they can mix varieties,” John says.

This year’s apple harvest is well underway.  By the second Monday in September, Ginger Gold and Galas had already been harvested. Empires will be ready the first week of October.  Other varieties grown at Burch Farms include Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Crispin and Jonagold.

“This year the apples are excellent,” John observes. Peaches are another popular orchard fruit grown by Burch Farms and following Labor Day, the farm begins to transition over to all apples at the farm stand.

This year’s peach crop was also excellent, John says. “People raved about how good they tasted.”

Peaches are harvested when they are fully ripe internally, but still hard to the touch. “If you harvest too soon, while the peaches are on the green side, they might not get as sweet,” explains John. The peaches need time to build starch which converts to sugar.

Burch Farms grows their peaches less than one mile from Lake Ontario, meaning they have been able to harvest a crop during years when growers farther away from the lake (even just two miles away) haven’t. Bitter winter weather can kill peach trees as well as portions of the crop.  Additionally, peaches can face diseases not as prevalent in apples.

“Some are prone to bacterial disease in tree wood, their longevity is shorter than apple trees,” John says.

Over the years of fruit growing, John notes that customer wants and needs have changed. “Golden Delicious used to be a really popular variety,” he says.  Now customers are looking for varieties such as Honeycrisp and Autumn Crisp. Additionally, there are not as  many customers purchasing large amounts of fruit at one time for canning or winter storage.

“Customers are changing. They are mostly two-income families now and time is a big issue. The older generation would buy two or three bushels for storage or to can or freeze,” says John. “Now families want the experience of bringing their children to the farm so they can see where their food comes from.”

The apple tent will be up until Oct. 29th this year and various apple varieties will be available as they ripen.

“The apples are harvested weekly,” John says … “when (a particular variety) is gone, they’re gone.”

Burch Farms is located at 527 North Avenue (Route 259) in Hilton – 392-2095/www.burchfarms.com.

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