Ontario Town Supervisor Bob Kelsch said he learned a lot from a tour of four agricultural businesses in eastern Wayne County Sept. 22.
“I’ll never look at eating an apple the same way again,” he said.
“You never knew what went into producing an apple,” agreed Rose Town Supervisor Lucinda Collier.
Kelsch and Collier were among about 30 people who visited the Pomona Packing plant in Wolcott and Empire Fruit Growers’ packing operation in Huron, two of five stops on the tour sponsored by the Wayne County Agricultural Development Board. Both plants are fairly new enterprises; Pomona has operated from the former Reckitt and Benckiser building on Ridge Road for the past few harvests and Empire’s brand new building is packing its first season.
“Last year, this was an apple orchard,” said Paul Waffler, who designed the new packing house. With Teeple Farms, Bryan Doyle’s farm, Norris Farms and VanFleet’s, the plant now employs 42 people and hopes to ratchet up even more. Waffler said the goal is no unemployment for their workers. There is also opportunity for other farmers to join the co-op.
Tom Facer, who runs the Pomona plant, said the demand for apples is changing, hence the need to have fresh packing houses here in Wayne County, New York’s largest apple producing county. Growers are also changing their orchards – planting trees that will be shorter and yield greater densities. They don’t want the expense of having to ship their fruit to be packed. Before the new plants opened, some of Wayne County ’s apple harvest was being trucked to the Hudson Valley .
With more of the local fruit going to the fresh market than ever before – including supplying everyone from Wal-Mart to McDonalds’ for their fresh cut dippers – it’s critical to growing agricultural enterprises to have places locally to pack.
That’s also why Lake Country Storage, next to Empire Fruit, is expanding its cold storage facility to include more than 40 rooms. It is owned by and serves many of the same growers in Empire Fruit, but also has other partners. The expansion project is 240,000 square feet.
When discussing how much investment the new enterprises have generated in Wayne County , not to mention the construction jobs or the related industry benefits, Waffler good naturedly challenged the more than $15 million estimate.
“I can tell you at least three quarters of that is right here,” he said about his related operations.
The tour also included a stop at Marshall Pet Products’ drying operation on Limekiln Road in Butler . Constructed in the past year, the facility has expanded Marshall ’s processing of alternative fiber sources from fruits and vegetables. The company originally had used some apple and other fruit and vegetable waste in pet foods, but now has grown to include the materials in human grade production. Mike Liseno, the vice president of the operation, said the demand is huge for the ingredients. Some of the companies that have worked with Marshall’s are Delmonte, Kraft and Pepsico.
Marshall’s, which is a subsidiary of Marshall Farms, and the apple packing operations have added jobs and received assistance from the Wayne County Industrial Development Corp. Pomona and Marshall ’s also have support from Empire State Development.
The tour concluded with lunch at Mills Fruit Farm Restaurant on Ridge Road in Huron.
Also on the tour were employees of Wayne County Soil and Water Conservation District, teachers and administrators from the Sodus Central School District and representatives of Assemblyman Bob Oaks, Congresswoman Ann Marie Buerkle and U.S. Senator Gillibrand.