Wilfred Bruneau, November 10, 2014

Title

Wilfred Bruneau, November 10, 2014

Subject

New York
Apple Farming
Organic

Description

Wilfred ("Willy") Bruneau is a fruit farmer in Cooperstown New York. He was born March 14, 1944 in Middleborough, Massachusetts. He now owns and operates Middlefield Orchard.

Creator

Ryan Mitten

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York- College at Oneonta

Date

2014-11-10

Rights

New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY

Format

audio/mpeg
28.8mB

audio/mpeg
28.8

audio/mpeg
225KB

image/jpeg
3264x4928px

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

14-018

Coverage

Middleborough Massachusetts
1944-2014
Cooperstown, NY

Interviewer

Ryan Mitten

Interviewee

William Bruneau

Location

2274 State Highway 166
Cooperstown NY 13326

Transcription

WB = Wilfred Bruneau
RM = Ryan Mitten

[Start of Track 1, 0:00]

RM:
This is November 10th 2014 interview of Willy Bruneau by Ryan Mitten of the Cooperstown Graduate Program Research and Fieldwork course at Middlefield Orchard. How are you today?
WB:
I’m doing well, and you?
RM:
Great, great. I was wondering if you could tell me when and where you were born.
WB:
I was born in Middleborough Massachusetts, 1944. March 14th.
RM:
Great. And tell me about what the town was like when you were growing up.
WB:
Actually we moved from the town when I was very small. We moved to New Bedford Massachusetts for a while. New Bedford, the whaling museum obviously. What I really remember is when we moved to north Dartmouth into my middle grades and most of my high school and that was pretty good. We had a small homestead there, and I got involved in track. I used to run cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track. We did pretty good in grades, at least I did at the time. I had pretty aggressive classes that I took. I was able to get into college pretty easily from that. I had a family of six children, mom, and dad. Five boys and one girl. [laughing]
RM:
Were you one of the older ones?
WB:
I was the third.
RM:
And what was it like with track? Was that a lot of neighborhood friends?
W:
No at high school I got involved in track. Actually the coach was the PE instructor. So whenever he got anybody in for the first time, he made us run. And so he’d pick out those he wanted to run on track. And there was a number of us who got picked to do that. I enjoyed it. I took fifth in my senior year in the mile in Massachusetts. So its fun. I like the indoor track. It was short and you could run around quick.
RM:
But now you’re outdoors all the time.
WB:
That’s right now I’m outdoors.
RM:
So how did you come into farming?
WB:
My dad had a small place there. We raised chickens and pigs from time to time. And as I went back I checked some of my family history and I found some families up in Quebec Canada. That’s where they migrated from. And I noticed that one of my great grandparents owned a farm and he was farming up there. I don’t know. Just in the blood, I guess. So when we moved into Pepperell Mass. We had eight acres there. We started raising some pigs, cattle, and got involved in doing some trees, fruit trees and nut trees. So we just, I don’t know. I just like working with the soil and nature. It feels really good.
RM:
And what brought you here to this area?
WB:
Actually a combination of things. One is that I was close to sixty years of age and we just got bought out. The company I was working for got bought out by Hewlett Packard and we had competing divisions. They bought us out so our division was gone pretty quickly. Within a year and a half after the buyout took place. So we had an option there to do an early retirement, it wasn’t all that lucrative but it gave us an opportunity to do some thing different. So we were looking around, and my wife does not like the heat, I like agriculture, and it was a fit in upstate New York. So that’s why we’re here. [laughter] I thought it would be fun to do an apple orchard. Oh if I only knew any better. [laughter]
RM:
So you said you love working with the soil. Where did that come from?
WB:
I don’t know. When we lived in Utah for a few years. First of all my dad was a contractor, [he] built things. So when I got up to Utah Joan wanted to get into our home so I built a home. And behind the home we started a garden, and the first year it was a total disaster. It was five feet by ten feet and I couldn’t handle it. I didn’t want to handle it I guess. The following year we had an option of taking five acres of peach and pear trees. So we took it and all of a sudden my green thumb came in play. You know, the desire and willingness to do it. So from that point I felt I had a good strong desire. There are a couple of things there. You learn about nature. The next thing is you’re providing. We would can things as we went through the season, for the winter months. It just felt good and it felt good working with nature and seeing different things grow.
RM:
And I found it interesting on your website how you have people pick their own apples and they can adopt a tree, things like that. How do you communicate that love of planting to your visitors?
WB:
I think they just instinctively know that when they come here. There is no other you-pick orchard that is close by. Every year we do something different and add things to it so I think they just recognize that. They figure if this crazy guy is going to work this hard he has to have some love or something in it. We started the berry parch because Joan was doing a lot of jam, we wanted to offset some of the cost. When we got that going people wanted to pick out of there. Then it got too small so we had to build it up bigger. Now we got another one that we have to build up bigger. Besides the strawberries and the raspberries and the blueberries we have to expand that quite a bit. So, people I think instinctively know that we have a like for the earth, and for things to cultivate.
RM:
Sure. And you offer that experience.
WB:
I think you are asking a little bit of a different question, Ryan. That is, people like to be close to their food source. And they’ll pick even bad apples off the tree as long as they picked it off the tree. If I tried to sell on the markets they won’t sell. But they feel like its coming right off the tree, it is fresh and whatever and a lot of people like that environment. It’s a wholesome one for them too, to know where their foodstuff comes from. And I think they feel closer to nature by doing that. Every year we’ve had the you-pick open, its escalated. I’m not sure, I haven’t done any figures for this year. But I think just instinctively that we’ve done significantly better this year than we did last year even though we had a better crop last year, a heavier crop. This one is I think has done that better. I think people need that hands-on experience for themselves. They feel closer to, like I said their food supply and handling that.
RM:
People are also very sensitive to, everyone wants to be organic and this and that. What does organic food mean to you?
WB:
Okay, organic means it’s very difficult to grow for sure. We try to mitigate any spraying or harmful fertilizer. We try to mitigate what we do with that. But we do have to do something. The tomatoes in the high tunnel, no sprays at all. We had some minor damage to some tomatoes, minor. But when we went out in the field and had about half and half. It was half on the field. And the ones on the field really got toasted pretty bad. Not all of them, but a good portion of them, I’d say over 60%. So we had to spray those to minimize the spread of those diseases. So it just depends, people try to do tomatoes on their own and find out that they loose a lot just because of that one thing and that rot that comes on the tomatoes. So we try to mitigate what we do, we minimize it. You know the recommendation is two pounds of insecticide per acre every two weeks. And because we’re in a colder spot here we do about one pound every three or four weeks with the insecticide. We also do that with the fungicide. That’s the apple scab that shows up on the apples. This year we just really got blasted because of that. Remember the high humanity we had all summertime. Heat, heat, heat; that’s very conducive to apple scab. So sometimes you lose on that. You try to minimize the sprays that people don’t want to have. The other thing is that we don’t spray around harvest time. When people are picking apples we hadn’t sprayed in over two months. So we try the best we can to be as organic as we can. The time that we weren’t we tried to go fully organic we lost 80% of our crop on just part of the orchard. We were just experimenting. So it’s tough in this environment where we are right now for cold and also for apple scab.
RM:
How do you think that impacts your sales, organic versus non-organic?
WB:
I think if there is a negative impact it is minimal, minimal, minimal. People know that we’re trying. You go out there and see there are a lot of apples that are damaged through hale and apple scab and they realize that we are trying our best to do that. I think they recognize that what they’re buying is not harmful to them.
RM:
Yeah, my mom likes to get those big bags for applesauce apple seconds. You get a good deal on all that.
WB:
Exactly. Yeah we do that here too with seconds or people pick up drops on their own.
RM:
Nice. What would you say about the different varieties of apples?
WB:
We have about 28 different varieties of apples and I think one thing about the different varieties of apples is the early, mid season and late season. The early season you have to make sure you plant them away from the other ones because when you’re picking them you don’t want to have any sprays around them, right, because you are picking early season. Planting them appropriately in the orchard is important, that’s one thing. The second thing is that you get an early apple crop you start picking apples late July early August we start picking apples. They don’t sell very well at that time. People always expect some kind of frost before they do that. So the August apples don’t sell well but they’re great tasting apples, they’re fresh apples and apple lovers will start buying them but not in great amounts. It’s not until you hit September, the mid season, like right now we have a Dandy Red, a Pristine, a Zestar. Those are not all the early apples but they are some of them. The Zestar is probably one of the most popular apples that we have. They’re crunchy, good flavor to them. Most of the early apples prior to that were very acidic. Not good for making pies unless you like really acidic apples or tart apples, there wasn’t too much buying power. But in mid season you start getting everyone’s favorites. You got the Honeycrisp, the McCowan is a very, very good apple. Shortly after that you get a good crop of other apples coming in: golden supreme, macs start coming in. The Fugi is barely coming in at that time, so we progress throughout the season. As a matter of fact we just picked some apples last week that were the late season Fugi The northern spies are in, the granny smiths are just coming in. So there’s a good season all the way through August, September, October. And then you’ve got to be careful this time of year, third time under twenty eight degrees the apples turn to mush. So you have to be careful to make sure you’ve got to pick them fairly quickly after that. Maybe I just prolonged that question too long.
RM:
No, no. I was just curious about the different types and I know Fly Creek brags about the blend of differently types of apples for their cider and everything.
WB:
Yeah it does make a difference. It depends on who’s drinking the cider too. The elderly people like a mild one that’s not too acidic. Obviously their system isn’t too engage in that. But you get the younger generation and they want the one with the zing to it. [laughing] If you know what I mean. And you do that with different combinations of apples for sure. The cider mill is doing this for so many years that they are very good experts at it. We try to cater to milder ones primarily for the elderly and also for some of the places that sell our cider because they cater to a different clientele. It’s a science in itself actually to make a well-balanced cider.
RM:
How is your relationship with Fly Creek?
WB:
We just got a different business model, they buy a lot of apples in bulk and bins and there’s no way this orchard could support that many to begin with. And the other thing is some of the apples that they really want we probably don’t have lots of bins of them to sell to them anyway. They have a different business model, they’re a retail outlet. They have an orchard there but its not a you-pick orchard, they don’t do anything with those trees. At least that’s what they told me, okay, I’m not making that up I went over there and they were telling me they just have them there for show and tell. Which is alright. They are more of a retail outlet and also a producer of cider and people love that and they do extremely well. This model is different I wanted to make sure that we cater to the public more hands-on picking and whatever. So people don’t just pick fruit but they also pick not just the apples but they pick berries and also some of the vegetables that we have out there.
RM:
I was wondering how does your business compare to the community of the farmers markets?
WB:
Well that’s one of the primary things that we cater to is the farmers markets. As a matter a fact if you just did you-pick operations from year in July, August, September and October, and you’re pretty much done four months of the year. And there’s no way that any business can survive a third of the month doing that. There’s no way that you could make that happen. So the farmer’s market, you know we put the apples in coolers and we go as long as we can. And then my wife puts up a lot of jams and we put up a lot of fruit. Freeze them so she can still be productive in the offseason. Yeah you need the farmer’s market, you really do to survive throughout the year. Otherwise you just don’t make it. Remember now, people go to the farmer’s market because of fresh produce, right? So you’ve got a captive audience that’s going there. And a little bit different than trying to do you-pick because the people who are going to do you-pick here they fall into two categories. One is those who just want to pick a pint or a quart just to eat. And then there’s those serious pickers who will pick up to 20 quarts or 40 quarts or 60 quarts for the season because they want to put them up for the winter months. Or they want to make their own jam. So you really do need the diversity of crowds coming in to do that.
RM:
And its great to see the farmer’s markets so popular on Saturday mornings, here [Cooperstown] at least.
WB:
Yeah they are. We are doing well in the farmer’s markets. All of them are doing extremely well. Except the indoor, like Bassett, Bassett is a mix of customers coming in and some of the staff wanting to buy. The hard thing about Bassett is that they switched over to some Mondays and Tuesdays and the best day is Friday for them. We’re trying to get back on track next year every other Friday. That’s okay, because people get paid and they’re ready to buy and shop for the weekend. When you start on Monday they’ve already bought for the weekend. For the most part, not everybody, for the most part. So we hope that market will improve over time. That’s not knocking them. It’s just a matter of fact how people buy.
RM:
What changes have you seen in your time in the farming business?
WB:
Basically when I started here, when I came here most of the orchards around here had regular sized trees. I’m talking about 20 or 30-foot high trees. When I started I saw a couple of orchards back in Massachusetts that started up with the trellis trees, the dwarf trees. I just found those were easier to maintain, the smaller trees although they do consume more, they’re more expensive per acre. So they need support structures. So you’re talking about an acre about $28,000 just to develop an acre. However, the long-term maintenance is much cheaper. So what we’re seeing right now is orchards that go from large trees down to dwarf size trees. There’s a couple of reasons for that. One is that the large sized trees are hard to prune, or labor intensive to prune. If you’re starting one from scratch, you’re not to expect an apple from that for six to eight years. That’s a large tree. These semi dwarfs are a little bit better than that. But these dwarf trees will produce within a year or two. Full production by year four. So why is that important? Most of the orchard now when new apples come out, you can go to a dwarf tree and start producing within a couple of years. You know, people will start liking an apple and you’ve got to wait eight years or six years. Six years you’re just starting to get apples so eight years you’re starting to run with some production. So I would say that the trend there is to get more smaller. As a matter of fact the new orchards are going now what they call whips, and they’re planting them every foot. When you’re planting an orchard that can be pretty expensive and you need the support system for them too. However, that whip is very easy to prune, for maintaining it that way, and also for picking. I mean just really, really quickly. So I think what’s happened is I think with you labor cost, the older orchards are trying to migrate down to the newer orchards, or the trellis orchards for economy of scales. And from these dwarf trees you can almost pick as much from a semi dwarf tree. That’s what we found in the orchard here. It may not always be the case, but trying to get away from expensive labor costs. That’s what most of them have done. More intense plantings for sure.
RM:
So you get a better volume of apples from planting them that close?
WB:
Yeah the dwarf trees we have are on five-foot centers, the regular trees you would have twenty foot centers. And the spacing between rows here is fourteen feet. There you’d have to go at least twenty feet apart, more than twenty feet apart because you still need to be able to drive a tractor and your implements through there. So if you do plantings on twenty-foot centers, that means the tree is coming out ten feet every direction. I’m not sure exactly what it is. I think its a hundred and twenty regular trees per acre, and if you do these dwarf trees that we have, five hundred per acre. When you go over to the whips its well over a thousand, well over a thousand. Probably close to twenty five hundred trees. The reason for that is just like I said, the labor cost. The other thing is when you get tall trees [they are] hard to prune. You have to get up on scaffolding, pretty intense. Part of the older trees have a tendency to put on wood, more limbs. These trees have more of a tendency to fruit, and that’s a disadvantage of the smaller trees too. They’re very aggressive in producing fruit. When you get too aggressive you get too many apples on the trees and they don’t size up properly. You do need a balance there. There’s always a fight no matter what you’re doing. You’ve just go to pick your battles and what’s the lesser of two evils. Its just nature I guess.
RM:
So the branch would produce more apples?
WB:
On the dwarf trees you’re saying?
RM:
On the bigger ones.
WB:
On the bigger ones what you’re doing is you’re producing more wood, more branches, more leaves. You can tell that pretty quickly if you pruned a row of regular trees and a row of regular of the dwarf trees you can just measure the pile, and you’re time working on it too. I’ve got a bunch of semi dwarf trees here, I could probably do a hundred dwarf trees before I finished those ten semi dwarf trees. The bigger trees just put on a lot more wood, a lot more firewood. But what you really want is the fruit, not the wood. So why are you pruning all this wood every year and just wasting time? So that’s what the orchards have been doing recently is gearing down. They’ll take sections, blocks of their old trees, rip them out, and put dwarf rootstocks in.

RM:
Any other changes that have surprised you in farming?
WB:
I think the other thing that I was mildly surprised about is the dwarfing rootstock. There’s some dwarfing rootstock that’s hardy-to-cold, and no matter how cold it gets in wintertime, and even in bloom time you get impacted by it for sure. You can lose a significant part of your crop but you don’t lose all your apples. That’s the rootstock itself. There are different kinds of rootstocks that have come in recently. One is called a bazinsky niner and they use those up in the St. Lawrence area where its really, really cold. We put them in here and they do exceptionally well. We have different rootstock too. An M19 is a great rootstock, good branching, good production off those. What else in farming? From fruit farming, every year that I’ve done this commercially for twelve years I think there’s always something new that comes up that you’ve got to pay attention to for the following year. Whether its hale damage, scabbing depending upon the weather coming up. We’ve had a lot of wind damage that took down a bunch of rows of trees. These trees require tying to something solid otherwise they just fall over and break. We’ve had Thayer’s and those kinds of areas too. So it’s something new every year, probably every year. In the future I can probably say the same thing, learning something different, something in nature is happening.
RM:
Do you see changes in the types of apples and fruits that are popular?
WB:
Yes. I think one thing before we moved here I realized that the Honeycrisp apple was really, really popular back in Massachusetts. It takes quite a few years for an apple to get popular. When we started in the farmer’s market here no one would buy a Honeycrisp, no one would even touch one. They’d want their Mac or their MacCowan, but no Honeycrisp. So basically what I’d do is when they bought some apples I’d take one of the Honeycrisps and say, this is a Honeycrisp apple, its yours, and just put it in their bag for them. It took about a few months and all of a sudden the Honeycrisp was the most popular one. So it was a conversion process that you see there. People like sweet crispy apples. The Honeycrisp has, besides the sweetness and tartness to it, its very crisp, and it has a good storage shelf. You can buy one, put it in the fridge, and two months from now it’ll taste like a Honeycrisp. That’s how good that apple is. There’s a migration to a lot of these good apples around here. A lot of them go on to these club apples. What that means is they’re good tasting apples, but they force you to get into a club, $10,000 to get into a club so you can start buying trees. After you buy your trees then you have to maintain production, inventory, then pay a percentage of that. That’s so eschewed. That’s what happened with the ones with Cornell the recent ones that come out there, before you quote that you have to go check that. Basically what they do is, some of the orchards are pretty upset over that because its our tax dollar that supports them to begin with. So why are they doing a double hammer on us, you know what I mean? Regardless of that, this club, I call it Wall Street has got to the apple markets, which I think is a shame. That’s the downside of the new apples that are coming out and the financial backing you have to have, the support that kind of thing. I think that doesn’t bode well. What we do now is like the Honeycrisp and on the apple trees we pay a royalty for every tree you buy, which is okay. Its like a dollar something a tree when you buy, it goes back to whoever came out with that patent for research, I think that makes good sense. But the other one is just so complicated, a lot of money up front and you have to maintain records, its just not my cup of tea.
RM:
So it’s a patent for a specific type of apple?
WB:
That’s correct. Like the Honeycrisp is a patent, I think its Wisconsin that came out with that one. So when we buy those trees a dollar goes back for that patent. You know for the school, for the patent there which makes really good sense. I support that one for sure. But these other, the club ones I abhor. I don’t think its good for the business.
RM:
So what’s the difference? If you would please explain how one would acquire a patent for a specific apple.
[Start of Track 2, 0:00]
WB:
Basically what they do is through their experimentation what they’re doing is developing a unique apple and it has certain qualities. I forgot the name of them, but they’re really good tasting apples and its just through their science of developing new apple trees that they, what they do is develop it in their science labs, new varieties of apples. But the club apple is really a financial issue with them. In the past they would just say, we’ll get a patent and you pay so much for every tree you get on the patent and that like I said makes good sense. But joining a club to do that is a financial burden put on, its just the way that they market it, and that’s the thing that I’m opposed to. The newer apples would be good, and they do come out with newer apples all the time. If you take an apple tree and take the seeds and you plant those seeds, you’ll probably come up with fifteen hundred different kind of apples.
R:
Really?
WB:
Yeah really. That’s what Johnny Appleseed did. But a lot of them are tart. They were useful with Johnny Appleseed for making hard cider. That’s what they were for back then. Most of the apples early on were not sweet or readily available to eat although there are some varieties there. So how do you get a Honeycrisp tree to develop? You use grafting techniques. So I’ll get a rootstock, and I’ll graft on a whip or from one of the trees that we have and you can do it that way.
RM:
So you’re fusing the branches?
WB:
Exactly. We have tools downstairs that do that. What it does, you give a notch this way on the rootstock and on the top graft you cut it this way so it just fits right in there. And then you wax it to seal it, and then we put a rubber band around it and seal it again. That usually will take hold and it’ll start sucking up moisture and start sealing that graft. So that’s how you propagate trees of the same kind, you get the same kind of tree. But if you did it from seed you wouldn’t know what you got. It’s almost like people, you replicate them and there are not too many similar ones. So what you end up with is like I said you can end up with fifteen hundred different apple varieties from one tree, just by cutting into the apples and replanting those seeds. What they do is they try to cross those so that they get a good variety. What they try to do is, crispness is very important to people, a lot of people not all people because some people like their macs and they’re kind of a soft apple. So you have soft apples and you have hard apples, so what you try to do is across there you try to make them good from a couple points of view. Not just the flavor but you also want to have good shelf life to them. You don’t see very many MacCowans in the stores. Great tasting apple. When we bring them to the markets they sell like crazy because they have great flavor to it, crispy, great flavor. The downside to them is no shelf life, the shelf life just diminishes right away after you pick them. You know I’m talking about weeks, you have a hard time storing them for months. We can keep them up until mid-December, then after that we just cider them away. But they make good cider, them and Courtlands a good mix of them they just got good flavor together.
RM:
What’s your favorite type of apple?
WB:
The one that comes in season. Well, the pristine are one of our early apples and its on the tart side unless you let it set for a while and it will sweeten up but its just got a good apple flavor to it. You know you’ve gone all year, well, the winter months without any apples, and you taste this apple its got a great apple flavor, it makes great applesauce. Just wonderful flavor, it’s a yellow apple and the sauce is yellow and its really, really good. Then after that you get the Dandy Red that comes in. The most popular early apple in our case is the Zestar. Wonderful flavor to it, crispy, it will almost rival a Honeycrisp in its season, but later on in the season they’ll get soft and oily and it’s just not good. So anyway throughout the season you have different good apples.
RM:
I’ll have to come next year for some Zestars.
WB:
Yeah, you’ll enjoy it. It’s a great tasting apple for sure.
RM:
I’ve heard that there used to be many more varieties and different types of apples in this region but now they’ve dwindled down to fewer.
WB:
There are a lot of heritage apples that have come and gone. A lot of the reason is the popularity of those apples even though people like Winesap and other apples. This combination of things that will drive markets to do things. First of all, how productive is it on the tree? Because some apples do very, very well and others don’t. So the productivity of the apple is one thing. The shelf life is another, you can’t keep it very long what’s the point? We have an Arkansas black back here, we haven’t even picked them actually. They will go all the way into April, May, they’re not a bad flavored apple but they’re a hard, hard apple, but they’ll last you a long time. People used to put those in storage. So we do have some heritage apples here, just so you’re not surprised, and that keeps for very long. What people did is in the farm they would raise apples and put them in the cold cellar for winter storage, they’d want to do that. Today we have cold storage we can do that, but in those days their cold storage was underground so to speak and they tried to maintain the best they could and some of those apples did very, very well. But the flavor isn’t there like the other apples, so people pick. The buying patterns will shift you to do certain things, right, so no different than us.

RM:
What are some of the hardships you have faced in farming?
WB:
Long hours, long hours. I guess planting can get tedious too because you’re planting a lot through the early spring, and then after weed season hits and weed season is horrendous, you’ve got to fight weeds all year long. Throughout the growing season anyway, that’s pretty hard. It can be intense too. I mean you’re running long hours, really long hours, there is no question about it. The problem is you can’t pay people a lot because everyone expects everything to be cheap. As a matter of fact when you come up to that kind of thing I always ask people, they want to buy cheap apples, I show them an apple and say, ten years ago what was the value of this apple? They are trying to guess a number and I say no its just an apple. Twenty years ago fifty years ago the value of that apple is just an apple. You know when I was a kid it was five cents an apple. Now they’re more expensive than that. Then I show them a dollar and say, this is the thing that has lost the value is the money, buying those sorts of things. The reason that I’m talking about that is there’s not a lot of money in farming to begin with. You have to do it because of the love of farming, otherwise you go broke. So its hard to hire a lot of people, it is, because you can’t afford them. And you can’t afford people all year round, there’s no way you can do that. I’ve got this one person who is helping me now early mornings for a period of time but after that, three or four hours a day, that’s all I can afford. In the winter months when we start pruning you do it on your own until you can start selling things and making some money to be able to afford things. I think, maybe people know this subconsciously, no one actually lays it out for them but right now we’re selling okay and we’re buying, you know people are buying us into the markets, but the markets have diminished. We’ve lost a lot of markets already at the end of September and October the markets just disappear. So that’s revenue that’s just gone. So you’re able to hold to Christmas time pretty good, I mean still making a couple of markets. Then all of a sudden the first of the year hits and people are cash strapped, don’t want to get out in the weather. So our markets drop off pretty significantly. Even though we have two markets going year round the revenue on there is minimal. From January probably on close to July you’re not making a lot of money in the markets at all. You can’t hire a lot of people to do that. All of a sudden it starts creeping up when your berries start coming in, then you start getting some of your early crops, vegetables whatever, so you start increasing a little. It really starts picking up probably August, September and October. That’s where you get peak months in the market and also peak months here in you-pick. It’s really labor intensive there. You’re picking berries, you’re picking peas, you’re picking beans and all those. I mean try doing peas, right? So it’s just time intensive in a lot of things there. And you’re maintaining the stand, and there’s just so much going on, there really is. You’re trying to do weed control, maintain the orchard, do the vegetables whatever, so you’re very labor intensive. From the first of the year, your revenues are very, very small, start creeping up, they peak out, and then they start dropping down after October. At the end of October they start dropping then they take another drop in January. So you’re caught between that cycle of having something to sell, and not something to sell. Your labor costs are affecting that too. It’s just the way it is. You really do have to balance your financial world, you have to learn fairly quickly because you can go broke pretty quick after a couple years of not being able to not have any money. That’s why we got into doing these rented trees and CSAs, I hope you don’t mind me talking about them. What they do is they balance your revenue stream. What happens there is we rent trees out, people get all the produce on the tree for a certain amount of money. All the apples, drops and everything are theirs. We maintain the farm, they have to pay us upfront for that in the May, June, July timeframe. And then with the CSAs it’s the same thing, those are a little more intense. We have a winter CSA, this is going to start up in January. Our regular CSA this Saturday is the last one. We run twenty-two weeks, so start it early in the spring we’re doing things we can sell starting in late June, strawberries, and raspberries. So the berry crop starts coming in and the early vegetable crop starts coming in. We are catering to them for that twenty-two week period but they’re paying us all upfront on it. So the fruit CSA is a three hundred and twenty or three hundred and forty dollars for just a fruit one. Three hundred and forty for just a vegetable one. A combination of fruits and vegetables is six fifty or something like that. We get that all way upfront. Why is that important? In the May/June timeframe you’re paying for new plants that you’re putting in the ground, seeds that you’re buying, fertilizer you’re buying, your labor. All that is very, very intense in the spring timeframe. What we’re doing for twenty-two weeks is actually providing produce to those people who bought upfront. Basically what we do is make sure they have at least eight hundred dollars worth, so we’re making sure we give them more than what they paid for. The bottom line, if you paid early for it, we’re going to give you some extra to say thanks for balancing our revenue stream in for the year. You have to do things like that to offset your up and down cycles that you would have. I hope that helps. People don’t think about it. They think about just the planting and the harvesting of crops but the financial one is the beast that you really need to get your arms around pretty quickly because it can make or break you pretty quick. All these other things add value to what we do.

RM:
Any other strategies you use to balance the finances?
WB:
Rob a bank you mean? [laughing]
RM:
How do you do that?
WB:
No, no. The other thing my wife picked up pretty quickly on the second or third year we started doing this, we realized that just selling produce we’re not going to do it. She started baking things, and making jams from the produce that we have here, especially the fruit. That helped balance it immensely. That’s why we’re able to make revenue in the winter markets even though its diminished there is still revenue coming in because of her baking capabilities. You have to be very flexible and understand what kind of environment you’re in. When you go to the markets people like that fresh made. When you freeze berries you can freeze them and you don’t lose any of the flavor from them. Berries are just like that. So when you’re making anything like jam or baked goods from those fresh berries you’re not losing any of that quality or flavor or characteristic of whatever she’s doing.
RM:
What’s the difference between growing fruit as opposed to vegetables? Do they stay better than vegetables?
WB:
Berries do very well with other kind of vegetables. What we try to do, with apples we make applesauce and apple butter, we can sell them to our winter markets pretty easily. With your cucumbers and whatever and onions we turn them into bread and butter pickles. We’ve got to get better at that. You can process some of that stuff during the growing season so you can sell them into the winter months pretty easily. There’s something you can freeze, we freeze sweet corn, not on the cob, we strip them and blanch them and freeze them and they come out just like you just did them right off the cob there all their flavor extremely well frozen. You just can’t freeze them an extended period of time because they will get freezer burn. You can enhance your revenue stream based upon the produce by the freezing and processing methods. But it costs you too to do that. Like we just took some apples in to make apple butter and it’s close to three hundred dollars just for the jars to do that. There are apples, so then you have to pay the processing fees and things like that. So you have to be financially astute to do those sorts of things, otherwise if you do a lot of that and carry it you’re just throwing money away, right? The way it is on the farm.
RM:
What are some of your favorite things about owning a farm?
WB:
I think one of the best ones is that you don’t have to go very far, you don’t have to commute. Yeah we get up early and do things but on the other hand we get out there, work early, come in around 9:30, eat breakfast, that’s convenient. The other thing is that you’re your own boss, you don’t have to worry about playing politics with anyone. I try to be reasonable with my employees, if they have some problems they just air it out with us and, you know, we try not to be harsh with them. Usually we have some good people here, some really good hard workers, honest people. We trust them with the cashbox, things like that. We don’t even worry about those things. And its nice to be out in nature. The hard thing in nature is that January through March is pretty tough. You’re pruning, you’ve got to prune because in April your planting again, everything, fruits, vegetables. So you have to have a good jump on your pruning. The weather is harsh, it can be harsh. That’s the part that I don’t like, the hard winter months December through March. The nice thing about it is that, boy, some beautiful nice vistas out here, and when the orchard is in full bloom it is just beautiful to behold. Then later in the season when the apples are almost ripe to go, it is gorgeous. I mean you’ve got different color apples out there and its gorgeous, it is gorgeous. And I think that even though nature has its own set of problems, like I’ll go into some facilities and you’re stifled almost, you can’t get fresh air. So you really do notice a difference being outside [rather] than inside. I think you get heartier too. Like I come in the house and feel really, really hot and my wife feels cold. So your body gets acclimated to a different environment, and I think that’s good. And the other thing is when I was in the high tech industry behind computers all day long my back started hurting me really bad. And here, even though I’ve got some injuries still from those days, I’ve got three compressed discs in my lower back, you’re moving all the time, you’re working all the time, I feel like I’m healthier. I eat healthier. When we were in high tech we had those machines, candy machines, hardly any of them were nutritional, I ate junk stuff like that all the time. Here if you want to take a snack pull a carrot out of the ground, taste it, an apple or a peach you know what I mean? It’s good snacking around here, wholesome snacking. And I like when the sweet corn comes in, we start picking sweet corn I’ll eat breakfast out there just eating a couple ears of corn just right off the cob they’re just so sweet so good to eat.
RM:
Sounds like heaven, that’s great.

WB:
Well there’s a downside to it. Well you’re close to nature. Most of us depend upon eating produce that’s trucked in or flown in. When you’re able to provide for yourself it’s a whole lot different. We have wheat downstairs, we had harvested some wheat, we got grinders we grind our own flower if we need to. We don’t do that regularly, but if we need to we’ve got our own flowers, cornflower or wheat flower, and then you get oats. The other thing is you learn a lot of skills to provide for yourself that we didn’t have before. I think if you talk about if something happens to society and the food supply gets lean, there’s ways you can depend upon yourself. Also, learning how to winter and summer the vegetables, over-winter them throughout the winter season to be able to pick them out of the ground. I’m not good at that but I’m better at it than I used to be. You can put things under snow cover charge charred and a whole bunch of winter produce or plants that you can just pick out in the wintertime and go pick out of the ground and there you go. So there are some advantages. The downside is you have to get away from here every now and then because you’re stuck here, not stuck here, but everything revolves around what you’re doing here and after a while you like getting away for a little while. A downside too is the amount of hours you put in, its pretty rigorous in every respect of it. So the rigor of it is hard. I wish here was a way you could balance that a little bit better but one day we’ll get there.
RM:
I’m curious, what kind of work did you do with computers?
WB:
I used to do service work first of all. I used to service computers, then after that do some design work, and then after that I got into the software part of it. Then later on we got into product and program management, so I had a diversity of things. As a matter of fact if we didn’t have the merger I wouldn’t have been here because I enjoyed the work, developing new things, that’s what we did all the time we developed new products. I liked the teams we were on, some great teams, great people that we worked with. I enjoyed all of that and it was really, really good. Except if it wasn’t for the merger I probably wouldn’t be here at all. I went to college to develop a career and the career was good and we enjoyed it and, what can I say except it was good, I liked it. But I just didn’t want to die on the vine, you know, sixty years of age, whose going to hire you? Right? So I figured I might as well do something exciting so we just thought we’d do something different. An advantage to what we’ve done here is we’ve brought an asset to this community that was not here before. People recognize that, they don’t have to travel two hours somewhere to go get apples or to go get fresh vegetables. They know that they’re very local to their communities. There is some strength to that too, in case anything does happen with the food supply, there is some local expertise that can be able to provide. Not for the total community, you wouldn’t be able to handle that but I’m just saying that you could provide a backup. That would be good.
RM:
So we’re almost out of time.
WB:
Really?
RM:
Yeah, we’re flying by. Any last thoughts about anything?
WB:
The last thoughts, I’m seventy some odd years old, seventy one, and something is going to happen sooner or later. Either we manage it more rather than work it more, you know you get more people onboard. Either we’ve got to do that or do something because we can’t keep up the pace. I’m trying to keep up with thirty year olds and forty year olds and there is a significant difference there in health or whatever. I think the nice thing about it is its healthy, I still get excited knowing I will be planting some new plants this year, different kinds of plants and we’re putting up a high tunnel. We have a hard time here with peaches, apricots and cherries. We plant them all year round but the yield is terrible. So we are trying to experiment by putting them in a high tunnel and see if we can change that. I get excited with improving and going with the flow. It’s exciting to see change and to add value. Its in your blood I guess. People want more of this I’m going to have to go do it. They want some cherries, I put in an acre and a half of cherries and we just cannot do it, cannot do it. That’s because of the harsh winters, so we’re trying to mitigate the cold there in the high tunnel just for part of the season then rip it off in the main stay of the season.
RM:
What kinds of things does the high tunnel benefit the most?
WB:
Basically a high tunnel is a greenhouse with no heat in it. So what it is, its really a season extender. We start things early into it, like in March we started planting some tomatoes in it, but we had to put some heat on it because we had two nights when it really dropped too low. But that’s an oddball thing usually you don’t want to do that because its too expensive. Basically it gives you a jump on the early season. We had tomatoes earlier than we’ve ever had because we were able to plant them earlier and we were just pulling the last ones off today. Here almost mid November and we’re still pulling tomatoes which was pretty awesome. We couldn’t do that before when we had the hard freeze we would have lost everything, just gone. So the high tunnel extends our whole season. The greenhouse that you have out there that you have to provide heat to, that one is a little more costly to run because you are running electricity, you are burning wood in it to keep the plants going. Basically we start the plants under lights and heat mats and as soon as they get up so high we get them out in the greenhouse. Then you have to make sure that, we’re up at eleven o’clock at night and four o’clock in the morning just feeding the woodstove just to make sure we don’t freeze out any of our plants, that’s the advantage of those. The greenhouse will provide heat all year round, you can take produce all year round. If you just want season extenders like the high tunnel that’s worked in our favor this year, very, very much so, its been very beneficial to us. A lot of work but still it pays off in dividends at the end of the year. But you do have to cut wood and split wood unless you can afford to buy it. There’s a tradeoff there, your field cost plus your labor, benefits of some of that. Right now we were the only ones with tomatoes in our markets right now. So whatever we bring to market gets sold. None of them are going to stay around, which is good for us. But there are just not a lot of them.
RM:
Well thank you so much Willy this is fascinating.
WB:
Your welcome Ryan. Glad to do the interview.

Duration

30:00 - Part 1
30:00 - Part 2
00:13 - Part 3

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbps

Time Summary

00:00 Upbringing
2:25 Cooperstown
4:30 Farming
8:00 Organic
10:30 Apple Farming

Files

Bruneau.jpg

Citation

Ryan Mitten, “Wilfred Bruneau, November 10, 2014,” CGP Community Stories, accessed August 4, 2020, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/202.