Four friends, looking to the future and already involved in the Adams County fruit-growing tradition, pooled their knowledge, bought some land, and began a new business forty years ago.
Today that business has grown from the initial 20-acre purchase with four employees to 300 acres and as many as 45 full-time workers.
The Orrtanna business, Twin Springs Fruit Farm, is located off Orchard Road in the hills above the Adams County Winery.
Three of the original partners, Jim Frazee, Eddie Rankin, and Sam Walner have now retired from the business. The fourth, Aubrey King, remains a partner, now joined by his sons Michael and Jesse.
The original 20 acres, purchased in 1979, included full-size fruit trees and a farm stand. “We were all dabbling in the fruit business,” said Frazee. “We hit on a group of people who got along,” said King.
Twin Springs originally sold its produce locally at the farm stand on Route 30 west of Gettysburg. But Frazee said an article by Jim McPhee in the New Yorker magazine, titled “Giving Good Weight,” and written about the life of farmers participating in “direct farm markets” initially gave him the idea of trucking the Twin Springs produce to a larger city.
In 1980 the partners started loading trucks and driving their products to farm markets around the Washington DC area. Today, almost all of Twin Spring’s profits come from sales at dozens of markets around Washington. Twin Springs stopped selling its products locally on the retail market in 1986, although it does wholesale to local buyers.
According to King, the business began by selling apples and stone fruits, but over the years they started growing a wide variety of vegetables and now fruit makes up only about one-third of the business.
The vegetables are grown (either in soil or hydroponically) and stored in a dozen or so different buildings on the property, each controlled to be a specific environment and temperature.
In mid-September, one greenhouse contained about 3,000 tomato plants, which will provide tomatoes for sale until Christmas. In another, 20-foot long cucumber vines sprouted thousands of small, perfectly-shaped fruits. And in another were lettuces of all types waiting to be harvested.
Twin Springs keeps adding products. New this year are figs, which pose a special challenge because the tender trees must be protected from winter frost by large row covers.
Twin Springs grows much more food than it can sell, and chooses the very best of the crop to transport to market. “Because some of our product is going into wholesale we can be more selective in what we sell for retail,” said King.
King said growing so many different products takes some of the worry out of farming. “We’re spread out enough that the weather doesn’t cause us much anxiety,” he said. More worrisome is “getting stuff done in time. And there is always loans and meeting payroll.”
“I work seven days a week and I enjoy all aspects of the job,” said King. “I still love going to markets; they are my favorite part.”
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Because there are so many greenhouses that must be heated in the winter, Twin Springs has installed a state-of-the art biomass heating system. A huge warehouse is heaped to the top in the fall with shredded wooden shipping pallets brought in on semi-trailers. Over the winter, the wood chips are slowly fed via conveyor into a huge stove where they are burned. The resulting heat is piped to the individual greenhouses and buildings.
“It’s a carbon-neutral solution,” said King. “The pallets burn well because they are so dry.”
The system was installed in part with funds from a Federal grant. Farmers from around the region come to see the project in action as part of an educational outreach program.
Twin Springs completed a major new construction this year. The large climate-controlled distribution center, still affectionately known to employees as “the stand,” is located on Hilltop Road off Route 30.
The building has bays for six delivery trucks, and every Saturday and Sunday morning before dawn they are loaded with tons of produce before they head to their markets in Washington.
The drivers are prepared for a long day on the road and lots of interaction with customers.