CGP Community Stories

Wilfred Bruneau, November 9, 2017

Title

Wilfred Bruneau, November 9, 2017

Subject

Farming
Fruit
Apples
Cider
Vegetables
Jam
Price Chopper
Greenhouses
Organic Spraying
Rootstock
Budzinski 9
EMLA 9
IPMT
Dwarf Trees
Farmers' Markets
Local Food Sourcing
Grafting
Reemay
Furrows
Corn Maze

Description

Wilfred (Willy) Bruneau, along with his wife Joan Bruneau, is the owner and operator of Middlefield Orchard. Growing up in New England, Willy has not always been in agriculture; he had a previous long career in the high tech industry, working for IBM and then Digital Equipment Corporation. Having found a love for growing his own fresh food as a side project during his career, when it came time for Willy to retire, he decided to start a farm. Thus, then in his sixties, he acquired what is now Middlefield Orchard and began developing what is now an expansive and growing fruit and vegetable farm.

Middlefield Orchard is an actively producing fruit and vegetable farm that sits on 130 acres of land. Most notable among the many different fruits and vegetables that are grown there, are the apple trees, of which there are thousands, with 28 varieties planted in rows. The farm plants new crops every year, and it includes peach, pear, and cherry trees in its orchard, along with berry crops and a plethora of different vegetables. It has all been a learning process for Mr. Bruneau, and he has taken to the profession in earnest, motivated by a desire to produce fresh food for the local community.

Middlefield Orchard is an established vendor at many of the local farmers’ markets in Otsego County, the two largest being Oneonta and Cooperstown. At their farmer’s stand, Willy enjoys interacting with the customers and other farmers in the community. He meets people who want to know where their food comes from, and how it’s produced. But more than just the fresh food from the earth, he and his wife Joan also sell baked goods and jams, which are even more widely distributed through different retail outlets in the area. Willy himself can attest to why his wife’s cooking has been so successful; you just can’t get anything like it at the store.

In his interview, Willy goes over the more personal aspect of things, such as what led him to farming, and what he enjoys most about it, but he also details some of the more particular processes that he engages in during his day-to-day operational management of the farm. The listener can gain a real sense of the amount of thought, planning, and hard work that goes into organizing and maintaining an operational fruit and vegetable farm. They can also learn about the immense sense of value and worth that Mr. Bruneau gains for himself in completing the task of providing healthy and fresh produce to people within the Otsego County community.

Creator

James Matson

Publisher

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

Date

2017-11-09

Rights

Cooperstown Graduate Association, Cooperstown, NY

Format

Audio/mp3
28.8 MB
Audio/mp3
28.7 MB
Image/JPEG
5184 × 3456 pixel

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

17-015

Coverage

Upstate New York
Middlefield New York
1944-2017

Interviewer

James Matson

Interviewee

Wilfred Bruneau

Location

Middlefield Orchard
2274 NY-166
Cooperstown NY, 13326

Transcription

WB = Willy Bruneau
JM = James Matson


[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]


JM:
Hello, this is the November 9th, 2017 interview of Willy Bruneau by James Matson for the Cooperstown Graduate Program’s Research & Fieldwork Course recorded at Middlefield Orchard. How are you doing today, Mr. Bruneau?

WB:
Willy. Thanks for asking, James. I’m doing well thanks [laughing].

JM:
Alright, would you like to tell me of your experiences with farming growing up?

WB:
Growing up, the only thing I know that when I was a kid my dad had some chickens and some rabbits and, I’m not sure if he ever had pigs, but it was just a kinship there with animals and plants, whatever, when I was young. That was about it, not too much more than that.

JM:
What were meal times like in your family?

WB:
I’m not sure how you’re asking. My mom used to work and my dad worked so I’d come home from school and either myself or my brother would make dinner for the family, my mom would give us directions of what to do.

JM:
You would make the dinner?

WB:
Yeah

JM:
What kind of food would you prepare?

WB:
This is unusual so [laughter] so if you’re ok with this, basically what she told me to do is, it’s going to sound funny: boiled hamburger. But, basically what we did was we prepped the potatoes whatever got them to boil for so long, and then you would put onions in it, and then you’d put hamburger in it, so it wasn’t a boiled hamburger patty, it was just, it was interesting, anyway, that’s what we were good at doing. [laughter]

JM:
And where were you growing up?

WB:
That was actually in Massachusetts, I was born in Middleborough, we moved to New Bedford, and after that my dad built a house in Dartmouth with us boys, and that’s where we started cooking.

JM:
And just two of you? Siblings?

WB:
No, no, sorry, just two of us were cooking. There’s my mom and dad, and two older brothers, myself, two younger brothers, and a sister.

JM:
And tell me about..

WB:
Can I tell you my sister was spoiled? No ok [laughter] That’s not for today.

JM:
And where’d you fall in oldest youngest?

WB:
I was the third.

JM:
So tell me about your career after childhood.

WB:
Ok, so basically what happened was that, I was taking college classes at high school, but, we were pretty poor I mean, everything I wore was hand-me-downs from my older two brothers even my shoes were, holes in them. I hated walking in the rain, because the rain would disintegrate the cardboard, so your feet got wet and whatever. I still hate my feet getting wet nowadays. So anyway, we were so poor that I knew we couldn’t do that, so I joined the military, and when I joined the military you had options of picking courses, and I got one on cryptography. So I was able to do that for three years, and then after that, I ended up joining IBM, and then I went to Digital Equipment Corporation, so I was thirty-five years in the high tech industry, computer industry, either repairing the equipment at times, and designing some of it, and later on I became a project and program manager.

JM:
And that’s a little bit different from what you’re up to nowadays. Would you talk about your move from a career in technology to fruit and vegetable farming?

WB:
Well the move became, kind of, well not a requirement, but basically I was sixty years of age when one of our competitors bought out our company, and we had competing divisions, so our division was gone within a year and a half. So I knew that was happening so, at sixty years of age, I opted to retire at that time, and relax.

JM:
And that’s when you decided you wanted to start a farm?

WB:
Yes. Well, I had some, when we were living in New England, I had some, about a hundred and fifty fruit trees there, and I enjoyed, you know, fresh fruit and enjoying things growing, so I came here with a pretext of putting in a few trees and I’d pick a few apples every year and sell them somewhere. Laid back experience, you know.

JM:
What drew you to farming, you mentioned you enjoying fresh food?

WB:
I just enjoyed it, in New England we had an approximately eight-acre parcel, and we had a hay field, and we had a number of fruit trees there, so I just enjoyed doing that kind of work; it was wholesome, you ate well, you’re outside most of the time, so it was, it’s still an attraction to me, I enjoyed that.

[TRACK 1, 5:40]

JM:
When you decided you wanted to start a farm, what was the process of getting the land, acquiring the land like?

WB:
Basically what I did is, we, I looked in [the] New York area. My wife can’t take the heat so we couldn’t go much further south, although I would’ve loved to have [laughter], but anyway, so we started focusing on New York area because this is agriculture country, most upstate New York is. It’s been abandoned for many years, but then what I did is we started looking for land properties around, I guess from Cobleskill, all the way up Schoharie Valley to here, and I just thought, as a property I fell in love with it, initially. And then we went to the farm bureau to then verify that the soil would be adaptable for fruit trees. Because you have to have good drainage for fruit trees. It’s a little bit rocky for sure, but we’re able to make it fly that way, so that was the process we went through, and we looked at, I don’t know how many parcels of property in the area, but this one just, I just felt, like an affinity to come here. It’s in a beautiful valley, a gorgeous area, close to Cooperstown so, we’re further away from stores than we were back there but still in the countryside, very rural, peaceful.

JM:
And when you acquired it was it the current property?

WB:
Nope, basically it was a hayfield and cornfield when we first got here. So the first year and a half I built this house. About six months after I first started building it, I got some local guys who came over and wanted to assist so I was able to get some help that way, thank goodness [laughter] it’s a pretty big house, to do by yourself.

[TRACK 1, 7:40]

JM:
Tell me about the new building

WB:
Before I go there, so what we did after I built the house, a year and a half, we started putting a thousand trees, apples trees, a year, and we did that for about ten years, and some years we put two-thousand trees in, and then, from there, I’m just piggy backing on your question if that’s ok.

JM:
Of course

WB:
And then we realized we weren’t making a lot of money, because the trees were still young, so my wife decided to start baking and whatever and we were buying a lot of berries, so she said it would be good if we had our own berries, so I put in the berry patch, a small berry patch. And then people wanted to pick off of it [laughter], so it got bigger and bigger and bigger, and we started with raspberries, then we ended up with blueberries. About two and a half acres of raspberries, and the blueberries weren’t sufficient, so we’ve added another two acres of blueberries, in addition to what we had, and then we started putting in strawberries, same thing. So that’s what we got with the fruit situation, and then I realized that we probably wanted to get into doing vegetables too, so we got some greenhouses and then we started farming the far area over here. In the meantime, as we were planting things, the farmer continued to farm on acreage that we weren’t using, until all of a sudden we bumped him off because we were using the whole acreage. So now, is that ok?

JM:
Yeah

WB:
That gives you a little history of what happened there.

JM:
Yeah, that’s a good summary

WB:
So the building itself, basically we had that little shed out there to sell out of, for apples it was ok, still works ok for “u pick” only, because we go into the markets for the rest of the year. And then, what’s happened lately is that, we’re not able to sell everything out of that shed, that we need to, so we’re putting in a building to facilitate that. The other aspect of it is that, and this is my wife’s fault ok, she’s such a good cook that people keep demanding the jams she makes, and basically what happened is that, right now she’s in The Farmers’ Museum, the store there, she’s in Ommegang, Brooks’, Good Cheap Food in Delhi, in Oneonta. So she just, has started spreading out, and we’re cooking, like small batches there and doing bread and other things, and the house all of a sudden became too small to do everything, and she can’t do everything anyway. So the other reason that we’re doing the building there is not just to have the storefront but also to have a 20-C kitchen. 20-C kitchen allows you to do fruits and vegetables processing, like we can’t do our pickles or apple sauce, we have to bring it to the Finger Lakes to do them right now, so we want to do that here locally, we can do it on our own time. And then our storage, because we expanded so much, our cold storage is too small. So we’ve had to expand that, and we have so much of an apple crop now that we need, we have two manual cider presses, and we’re going to be getting a hydraulic one in there so we can do like a hundred fifty gallons an hour, rather than what we’ve got right now. Ok, so that answer your question? That was a long answer.

[TRACK 1, 11:07]

JM:
No, that’s great to hear about what’s going on at the farm right now. Want to maybe talk about the jam process a little bit, when did that start, the jamming of the fruit?

WB:
I think making jams, she, we started probably a couple years after we moved in here, maybe two, three years after, and then it’s caught on with a lot of people that they really like it. We do everything in small batches. You can cook big batches of jam, but lose the quality, the flavor, and coloring of it. So when you usually get some strawberry jam, if you don’t doctor it up it looks brownish because it’s been cooking so long, and because you get a big batch, it takes a long time to heat up, and it takes a long time to cool off, and you have to get it at that particular temperature. So basically, to make it red, people have an option; they can dye it, put coloring in it, or basically, what she does is just small batches over and over again, [to] keep the entire quality, the taste, and the appearance really looking good. So she’s done that on her own. She’s learned how to do that.

JM:
Was the picking your own fruit and berries, was that always part of your original plan for the farm? Or did that come more organically?

WB:
That was desperation to sell all of our apples [laughter], to pick them all. We didn’t have enough pickers. I mean, the thing is, usually what happens, is that when you get an orchard like this you get a picking crew in and they’ll pick all the apples and put them in storage. Well, that’s not conducive to a “u pick” operation at all, or even going to market with fresh apples. So basically we ended up doing the “u pick” to help us pick apples to begin with, and the other one was to get fresh apples for the marketplace.

[TRACK 1, 13:24]

JM:
When you were planting a thousand trees a year, what goes into that process, of the picking of the rootstock, or different decisions that you have to make there.

WB:
Yeah, basically even today, if you go to pick any rootstock, or putting in trees at a commercial level, you almost have to do that a year, two years, or even three years in advance, because some of the rootstock is important for you, like we got dwarfing rootstock, but some of it’s cold-hearty and others aren’t as cold hearty, ok, and there’s different aspects of it too, how wide the tree will get, how less pruning, whatever, on different varieties of rootstock. So my very first thing is, the criteria on picking the tree was, well apple variety first of all, but then you want to figure out what is the rootstock that you want on that. So what we do is we use a Budzinski 9 rootstock on, not all the apple trees, but quite a few. This is used in the St. Lawrence Seaway area where they grow apples there because it’s so cold in that area, so it kind of guarantees us every year that we’ll have some apple crop. And then, probably the best one for quantity of apples and growth in the tree is what they call an EMLA 9, and that’s [got] good bushing capabilities, and a good amount of fruit on it. So then, the other aspect of it too is that you’ve got to figure out, with a dwarfing rootstock, the distance between trees, the distance between rows, because you’ve got to spray them, you’ve got to cultivate them, prune them. And then, the issue is that you’ve got to keep your early apples away from your later apples, because once your early apples come in you can’t spray anywhere near them, not that you do that much, but it does happen so you’ve got to be careful of that. So the layout is important too, where you put things in the orchard.

[TRACK 1, 15:37]

JM:
And on the subject of spraying, what’s your policy in terms of trying to cater to an organic market or not?

WB:
Yeah, good question, basically we try to do what they call minimal spray and it’s an IPMT fashion, it just says an integrated pest management spraying method is that you spray only when you need it. It’s not just insects. A lot of our apple crop, probably about 20% of it, we’re not able to sell in the retail market just because [of] apple scab and whatever. In this area it’s a little bit chillier so we don’t have too much damage from bugs; [we] have more damage from crows than we do from bugs, believe it or not. So the context there is our sprays are more heavy on fungus, fungicides, than they are insecticides. Although, when we’re talking about the berry patches that we have here, all that we use [is] organic sprays for them. So basically what that means is that the spray that you put on there, you can actually eat the fruit within twelve hours of spraying it. It attacks, whatever it’s going to do, and then it dissipates, it breaks down, and there’s no transformation of the chemical to the fruit. So that’s what an organic spray is. So even organic or non-organic you’re spraying, it’s just one that does not penetrate the fruit at all. And then early season a good insecticide is oil based, and you can use it early in the season, you don’t want to use it all throughout the season, but we do use it during the season. So on the berries we are probably all organic sprays, no big issue there. With the apples then, all of sudden we do have to use some of the more potent sprays during the middle of the season. The recommendation is like two pounds of insecticide per acre every two weeks. We do one pound every three or four weeks. So we mitigate how much we spray, and you can tell that by looking at the apples, that they’re not heavily sprayed. If you took the super market apples and looked at one that’s, you know, it’s very attractive. Ours are not as attractive as that, but the same quality underneath, you know what I mean.

JM:
What would you need to do differently in order to be in a retail market? The example being Price Chopper in Cooperstown.

WB:
We were actually, when it, can’t think of the name now, it was a different store before, the Great American, we sold our apples to them, and they had them right in the store. When this group [Price Chopper] came in, they required us to go through some particular hoops [laughing], that wasn’t very conducive. Anyway, under Great American basically what I did is I just sorted our apples and then brought them to the store, and they would call me when they needed more. For the group that’s in there now, they asked us to bring them all the way up to Schenectady, so it was just, there’s other criteria that they wanted that just put us out of bounds so, it’s ok.

JM:
What was the process like when you started the orchard and the vegetable farming, of getting into the local farmers’ markets in Oneonta and Cooperstown?

WB:
That’s a good question. Basically, after the first year, the year after we planted the trees, we actually, off a thousand trees, we made $1500 that year selling apples, we had basically a six-foot table in Cooperstown, way in the back, and it was just a table with a background on it and not much there and basically we waited for this one customer to come in. She’d usually come in about two o’clock, and the proceeds that we got off of that we were able to pay our fees for the day. And [Oneonta] happened a few years later than that and we were able to have a few tables up there and start, and as we’ve grown there, as we’ve grown here, we’ve taken that there and we’ve continued to, have you been at the Oneonta market at all?

JM:
I have not, personally

WB:
Oh, we’re probably one of the biggest ones there now, we have like, how many tables? Well we have four tents set up and I think ten tables that we set up there. The big van out front is almost inadequate with the stuff that we bring there now, for the produce that we bring at the market. So not only do we do the regular just selling in the market but we do a CSA program, community supported agriculture, you’re familiar with that right?

JM:
I looked at the program on your website. I’d love to hear more from you about it.

WB:
So we started it probably with about ten CSAs one year, and all of sudden now we’re between thirty and fifty. So a lot of that we bring extra produce there and it’s on one of the tables there, we set up everything and people just come and pick whatever they need to off of those tables as part of the CSA program.

JM:
Would you say that a number of your CSA customers have come through the farmers’ markets?

WB:
Oh, for sure, usually, basically that’s the way the come. Typically, they like our product, and what was interesting is that everybody had a CSA of vegetables, but they never had a fruit one. So for the very first year, I mean, I didn’t know what I was doing [laughing] just jumping into this right. So basically what we did is we did a fruit CSA, and people bought into that and liked that. So then after that we switched over, and made a fruit one and a vegetable one, and then we made a combination of that, and it goes very, very well.

JM:
Have you seen the positive effects of a trend, trends towards supporting local agriculture? Local food sources?

WB:
Yup, I think both places. My wife is running the Cooperstown one, and she caters more to baked goods and to the fruit crop ok, and we’re limited there how many tables we can, but basically her customers purchase more of that than they do in Oneonta. And because in Oneonta I’m pushing more of the vegetables and fruit. I mean we put out the baked goods there too but that’s not our primary focus in Oneonta. And there are a lot of people who are really very concerned about where their food is coming from, and they know here where it comes from because they come here, and they pick. I mean our berry patches are good sized berry patches, and we do have a lot of support for picking their own, so they know what they’re getting when they come here, and they’ll ask me different things about spraying techniques and whatever. We’re just upfront with them, what we do.

JM:
And where did your adopt-a-tree program idea come from?

WB:
The rent a tree?

JM:
Yes, that’s what I meant.

WB:
Because they wanted me to get into the CSA program, and I didn’t know how to do that initially, so I figured [laughing] what if we just rent a tree to them, a family or whatever, multiple families, and they could just pick all the apples they want. So that’s not very popular. I mean people do it every year, but it’s not like it’s a lot of people that do it. A couple reasons, one of the trees that we had, and most of them, we guarantee like eighty pounds to a hundred pounds or whatever per tree ok, so they’re getting what? Fifty cents on the dollar or whatever, no, not even that, we’re charging a dollar fifty, so they’re getting 33%, paying 33% of what they typically would if they just bought the apples. The disadvantage to them, they get a lot of apples in one time, or they multiple pick them ok. The other aspect of it is that we had one Honeycrisp tree here that we rented out for $60 and they got three hundred and twenty some odd pounds of apples off the tree [laughter]. That’s a lot of apples. You know, what do you with all those apples? So a lot of families now are getting in tune to, what they do is they’ll rent a tree and share it with another family. So there’s, if you’re doing something like baking or processing a lot of apples that works really, really good. Because you pay $60 for three hundred some odd pounds of Honeycrisp apples, what does that come out to? Pretty cheap [laughing]. Couldn’t do that anywhere else.

JM:
And so you have a number of different trees on the farm that have a different peak sort of season

WB:
We do, we go from August, we’ve got our early apples coming out in August, and they go all the way into, probably the third week in October, when most of them are, if they’re going to get ready they’re ready at that time. So we have three early varieties, well two early varieties, two varieties right after that. Then we have a mid season, and then you have a later season, picking them then.

JM:
And how was this fall for you? A lot of local commentary on how it was a little bit warmer later than usual. How does that affect your cropping?

WB:
Yeah, the weather is, well a couple of things, if you recall, the spring time we had a lot of moisture, a lot of moisture, I mean you hardly saw any sunny days, and some of the apples had so much moisture they were actually cracking. They healed over but they were still cracking so it was hard to sell those apples. And then, during the season when it got up to eighty degrees, it’s a turn off for people too you know, they should be picking them a little bit cooler, and then you get later in the season when it’s really cold and no one wants to come out and I don’t blame them. So, when we’re picking apples, we primarily go from the end of August to the end of October, as the season to pick. Part of the issue with that is that people like to get apples, fresh apples even after we close down here. So another reason why we’re putting a cold storage in the building back there is so that we can extend the season. We’ll probably close you know, January through whatever and then open up again when we start getting fresh fruits and vegetables back in. That was a roundabout answer to your question.

JM:
So how does your day to day life change going into the winter season?

WB:
Good question, right now we’ve had so many cold nights that the apples, whatever apples on the tree they’re just mush at this point. So what we’re doing is we have apples in storage that we put in there, and typically what we do, at this time of year, is a couple of days during the week, we go through, sort everything, make sure that there’s no bad produce, because you know, produce only lasts so long. So we just go through, sort it, make sure that everything we take to market is fresh whatever, and we’re still picking like kale. We’re still picking salanova, lettuce, there’s a lot of leeks out there, and some broccoli, and brussel sprouts still, so we still have things that we go to market with. So that’s up to the end of December. The end of December, then we’re still going to markets and still doing that sort of thing, but then we start pruning all the apple trees, which takes an effort. And also, probably, at the end of January, early February, we start seedlings all over again, because we have the greenhouses. I don’t think it would be profitable for us here to heat the greenhouses during the December-January time frame, so we go [with] whatever produce that we can pull out of the greenhouses that are still, like I said the kale, they’ll last you a while, and then spinach and things like that. And then from there on, that activity continues until we’re able to start planting and putting plants in the greenhouse, and then like February sometimes, the end of February, we’re heating the greenhouses with wood primarily.

[TRACK 1, 29:03]

JM:
Are you still planting new trees?

WB:
The last two years we’ve put more resources into the vegetables. The acreage [is] around a hundred twenty eight acres and forty-five of it right now is in fruit, and we have another twenty to thirty in vegetables, and then the rest is in field crops. So that kind of gives you an idea where we are. So we’re not planting as many trees right now. I do need to plant some, some new variety of trees, but some of the new apple varieties that are coming out, you have to belong to the club to buy them. Do you know what that means?

JM:
I have an idea because you mentioned it in your previous interview, but I’d love to hear you talk more about what the club means.

[START OF TRACK 2, 0:00]

WB:
Basically, I guess Wall Street has infiltrated the agricultural business, but basically what they want you to do is if they come out with a new apple crop, or apple variety, you put ten thousand dollars down so you can actually, at least buy one tree. You probably want to buy more than that if you’re putting that much money into it. So then once you get into that, put that deposit down, then all of a sudden. So I’d like to put some of the new varieties out but I don’t want to pay ten thousand dollars to just to put one variety in. For the size of this orchard, it would take me many, many years to recoup that.

JM:
And would that be to get a tree that you were not able to get from planting your own seeds?

WB:
You actually don’t get trees from planting seeds anymore. [You] go through the rootstock as you mentioned earlier, and you graft particular [scion] to it. Some of the newer varieties out, they restrict you in doing that. You have to sign a disclosure saying that you will not do that kind of thing. Not all of them, but some of the newer ones are like that.

JM:
Could you talk a little bit more [about] the specific process of grafting a tree?

WB:
Ok, yeah, easily. Basically what you do is you try to get a rootstock that’s about approximately a quarter to three-eighths of an inch, so what I’ve typically done is on the west coast, you can buy a lot of rootstock, the EMLA 9, the Bud 9, the M 26 rootstock. You get those rootstock and they come with a little, the center, and they cut it off, with the root, and basically what I do is I have a machine downstairs that puts a V in that bottom in the rootstock, and we’ll go into the orchard and get a scion and do the very opposite, and put a V in that, and a notch in that, and you coat it with wax, you wrap it with… there’s different wraps now, I used to do it with elastic, whatever, and then once again seal that with wax, and you try to keep that in a closed environment. Because you put that out in the fields, we’ve found out the deer like that. They’ll chew them up to bits, and pull them right out of there, out of them. So basically what you want to do is put them in a very controlled environment for a number of years until they get up to a certain height. Most of the trees that we planted here, when they’re about five to six feet, the deer [are] a little bit more respectful of the tree. If they’re smaller than that they just tear them apart, very much so.

JM:
So what has the process been like of adding different vegetables in the greenhouses to your sort of variety of species that you’re growing?

WB:
What do you mean? Variety of species relative to vegetables or to fruit?

JM:
To vegetables, in acclimating the greenhouses and that process.

WB:
Yeah, everything here, just because I haven’t grown up in agriculture, is a learning experience. So we make a lot of mistakes for sure, and the other aspect of it too, is not just us making mistakes, but also the weather impacting it ok. You can go out there and plant whatever on a date that you figure there’s no more frost coming in and all of a sudden frost wipes you out. Like this year, for the first time, 2017, we started corn early, sweet corn early. We wanted to get a jump on the season. So we put reemay on top of it. Basically what we did is we put furrows on the field, and planted the seed in those furrows, so it gave us about six inches and the reemay goes on top of that, so by the time we were able to take the reemay off, the corn was already six to eight inches tall. We just got a jump on the market by about two weeks doing that. So you try to do unique practices out there that would help you to get a jump on the season, so to speak.

JM:
Is the corn maze the same, is that corn that you harvest too?

WB:
Ok, that’s not sweet corn, that’s field corn, and we will harvest that and we have other hills around here that have got field corn in it, and we’ll sell that as feed.

JM:
Whose idea was the corn maze?

[TRACK 2, 4:57]

WB:
I’ve always wanted to do corn mazes. Two years, maybe three years ago, we did a corn maze without an exit, and that really blows people’s mind. They were so desperate they jumped out of it. And then last year, we did a very complicated one. Instead of doing, you know, T’s at crossroads, we did curves, and 70% of the people that we polled couldn’t figure out how to get out of it. And then, there were a couple of ingenious people they came back here, they struggled with it so they went and got their drone, [laughter] the drone went up so they could see where they were and how to get out.

JM:
Do you design the mazes?

WB:
We do. I do.

JM:
That’s a fun thing.

WB:
This year is not a too complicated one though. We’re a little fearful that we drove too many people away last year [laughing]. I don’t like doing scary mazes, it’s a family oriented place. There’s some things that we could do with the maze, we just don’t have time with, and one of the things is like having clues in it, how to get out, or just come up with something to make it more adventurous for people going through rather than just walking through a maze.

JM:
How are your relationships, or is there a community with the other farmers in Otsego county?

WB:
Ok, I would say that, as an orchard, and what we’re doing, is very unique in this county. There’s no other commercial orchard here. Fly Creek [Cider Mill] is not an orchard; they’ll tell you that anyway, and I’m not picking on them, we just have a different model. I always want to make sure that we have the ability to produce here. That’s the most important, I think, that drives everything. Most things I do here, is to make sure we can produce it. So like, when we go to markets, 80% of the produce that you have on the shelf there, it has to be from your farm, the other 20% can be brokered, but it has to be an approved brokerage ok. And like in Oneonta right now there’s no maple syrup person, and people kept on asking us for it, so basically I went to the committee there and said, this is what people [are] asking, if you want me to I’ll bring maple syrup, and they authorized that. So the maple syrup is a local maple syrup guy Mill Hollow Maple. So like I said, the driving force for me is, if customers want to buy something, and it’s of value to us, then we’re going to produce it here, we’re not going to go buy it second hand, it’s just too expensive, and that’s one of the reasons why we’re building this kitchen out there, is that we have the apples here. To get applesauce I have to take all of our apples all the way out to the Finger Lakes, one trip, come back, and go pick them up again, and same thing with salsa and the pickles that we do here. So, there’s a lot of things that we can do locally here that we’re not doing, so I don’t just want to be a retail outlet, ok, you know, buying stuff and selling it whatever, I want to be able to produce it and have it on the shelves there.

[TRACK 2, 8:27]

JM:
Has there been any thought into expanding acreage?

WB:
No, because we haven’t used it all [laughter]. Because I’d throw out the field crops right away if that was an issue, yeah, for sure. Well back of my mind, that’s a concern, because there’s one adjoining property over here, but they want too much money for it, so there’s no point in going there, plus we’re still developing what we have here.

JM:
When are you expecting to have the new facility completed?

WB:
I can tell you exactly when I’ll get it done. When I have enough money to finish it [laughing]. The roof is up, it’s sealed right now, but we want to get shingles on it, on good days throughout the wintertime. So in the spring timeframe, we’ve already contracted someone to come in to pour the floor, cement floor with radiant heat in it, only in the working area, we don’t want that in the cooler and the other part. And then after that it’s just, do we have enough money to put in the septic, which is another $4000, couple thousand for electrical, another well going in. So, you know, I/we built the building myself, with one of the guys that work here, and you know, we’re going to do as much as we can to it ourselves, inside. But I hope to get it done by this year, it would be nice to have it done by this upcoming year. Just so that we can move into it, but there’s some issues now. Is that from an ag[ricultural] and markets, I can sell produce out of that little shed, it’s a dirt floor right, so I can sell out of that. Once I get inside a building, all of a sudden, code takes over [laughing], so how many of [the] codes can we afford. But, we’re going to try and get into the kitchen and the storefront first, because that’ll be a priority this year.

[TRACK 2, 10:39]

JM:
What kind of employment or hired hands do you have on the farm to help with the cropping, and also the jam side of things?

WB:
Yup, it varies, right now we’re cutting back on most of the employees right now, just because a lot of the work has gone away. Most of the people who work here are part time. One individual works up at the parks and also here part time, and he’s been with me for many many years, knows the operation and is a really good worker. I primarily oversee the fruit and part of the vegetables, but he runs most of the vegetable garden himself. He’s really good, been in it since he [was] eight years old, nine years old, so he knows what to do there. And then, from time to time we hire people to man the stand out here, so a couple of people there, or even assist us in the farm stands, the farmers’ markets. For the kitchen, Joan hires this one woman. We tried to get somebody else in there part time, but Olga is working out pretty good for us and probably need, for my wife’s health, [laughing] probably need more of her hours. You know, it’s an income, outgo, and you have to balance that. So we’re trying to relieve my wife of a lot more work and bring in hired help. It’s hard to do that in that kitchen because it’s only a one-person kitchen, it’s a big kitchen but it’s not suitable for doing two things at one time like [inaudible] whatever, so [when] we get down to that building we should free that up. So the dining room table can be in that room where it belongs [laughter], in case you were wondering.

JM:
Are you interested in restaurateur-ing, or do you have any relationships with restaurants currently?

WB:
No. We provide produce at a couple restaurants around here, but not big time, and I’m not sure what your question is, would we provide produce? We do today to a few of them, ok, not big time but we do provide that, but I don’t want that to be a restaurant in there. We may sell some baked goods out of there, and jam out of there, or cider donuts and things like that, but I don’t want to go into meals or whatever, that’s not the intent. I got my foot caught into “ags” and market one part, and the federal bureaucracy [laughing]. It’s a hard transition, sometimes they don’t understand. Like this building has been three years to put up, and one of the reasons for that is, can’t do it all at one time, and have to piecemeal it, because it’s pretty expensive, the overall expense, when you get out of it. Just to kind of give you an idea, a new cider press would be $36,000, an E-Coli machine, to go with that press, is another $26,000. So you’ve got over $60,000 and that’s not having a building, that’s just those two units, not even before you can press one gallon of cider.

JM:
So how have you dealt with risks like that, that come along with farming, and that you’re dependent on what goes on in nature?

[TRACK 2, 14:32]

WB:
Ok, that’s a good question. I remember talking to an eighty nine year old woman, who has since passed away, and she said, you plant enough so you have 80% and the animals get the other 20% [laughing], and it’s almost the same way, the weather’s going to impact you year after year with something different happening ok. It affected us this year, in some of the crop that we had, broccoli and also Brussel sprouts, we had some really beautiful stuff coming in and it got too hot for it, and so we lost a lot of that. So every year, you’re going to get impacted by weather, whether or not you like it or not. It just happens, so you’ve just [got] to plant different produce so that you’re less impacted by losing one or two varieties of your crop. Happens every year, like last year, our apple crop, we hardly had an apple crop here, we got a really late freeze. We had apple crop, had enough for u pick and the markets, but just barely, just because of late season freeze that we had, just impacted us just at the wrong time.

[TRACK 2, 15:58]

JM:
Is it more important to you the product, or the experience that your customers have? Would you rather have someone come to the farm and pick their own apples, or are you more interested in servicing any way, through the farmers’ markets or what have you?

WB:
I like both ways actually, both bring different [customers], u pick only applies from July, when we start picking berries, July all the way to the end of October, and then you’re shut down here, unless we get the facility and can stay open, but no ones going to be out there with twenty degree weather like this, right? So the market brings a different dimension to us of, you’re in the orchard all the time right, and it’s comfortable here, you can argue with yourself or talk to the trees or whatever, but that’s [laughing] all you get here, so when you go into the farmers’ market you make some great friendships, just people, inquiring about their foodstuffs. They want fresh produce and you’re able to provide that, and they’ll have a bunch of questions and you ask them. Both my wife and I like being at the market. Although it gets harder and harder, I load up both vans in the morning, and you’re talking about a couple thousand pounds of stuff that you have to load in, and then you have to unload and setup tents and whatever, that’s the part that’s hard, getting harder, but dealing with people and whatever, it’s just a delight. Make some good friends, from different diverse avenues, everything, I mean their backgrounds are different, but the concern that brings them together is their food supply.

[TRACK 2, 17:50]

JM:
Do you have any, is there any sort of underground bartering going on between the different farmers that come to market, anything like that?

WB:
No, not that I’m aware of. No.

JM:
I just meant sort of in a friendly way.

WB:
Yeah, put it this way. People come here and every now and then they’ll buy trees, and whatever, and they’ll apologize, or “oh sorry” I’m taking away your business,” I’ll say, “You’re not taking any business away from me, you’re doing yourself a favor.” So even when we go to markets, most of the people that go to market, they’re fighting like we are fighting. Engles didn’t have a very good blueberry crop at all, and we had a heavy one. I don’t know why, it was just [the] same weather almost. So we had a heavy one, and people were kind of talking about them as competitors. I said I don’t look at them as competitors. I look at them as friends. I think they’re trying to do the same thing we’re trying to do. You know, if you couldn’t get any food from outside [the] area, I’d love to have the Engles here, you know what I mean? And other growers too. When I first came into the area, prior to buying the land, they said between Cherry Valley and Milford there were two hundred producing farms. Tell me how many you can count today, producing farms.

JM:
Not so many.

WB:
Not so many is right. So you’ve got an agricultural area, which is prime for agriculture, and not enough farms. So if you couldn’t get produce from outside the area, you’d have to depend upon what you’ve got here locally. So I’m very much in favor of, you know, local farmers or whatever. There’s not too many crazy people that do fruit farming for sure [laughing]. Because in the wintertime it’s cold; you’re out there pruning. You have to, because first of April, you’ve got to be done pruning, because you’re planting. More than what you wanted to know right there, sorry [laughing].

JM:
Well in the pruning process, talk about what does that involve, maybe different, is there any machines you use to help you with that?

WB:
Nope, we did it all by hand, and matter of fact we weed whacked around the trees about five times a year, just to get all the weeds and grass down about. Finally, this past year we were able to buy two pieces of equipment. One mower that actually goes, you go down the path and there’s a mower that sits behind you and also one on the side, and it actually senses the tree and goes around the tree. Not all the way around the tree obviously, it can’t do that. But if the tree was here, that unit would come here, sense it, move around, and go to the next tree. You can’t mow fast [with] that, but you still can mow. And the other thing that pruning, they come up with an electric pruner. Oh my gosh, I’d come in, in the winter time, and so [what] you’re doing is flexing your muscles, whatever, trying to prune some of these hard trees, and it’s in the wintertime and it’s cold. It’s the last place you want to be probably, but you know you’ve got to do it. Now they’ve got the electric pruner so you just go there, just push a button and it just cuts it off automatically. So with the new technology we’re able to save some significant time. A lot of time, labor hours I’m talking about.

[TRACK 2, 21:30]

JM:
And I was curious about whether, you had a long career in technology, whether there were any skills that you see yourself using on the farm today that came out of that, out of your previous career?

WB:
Now you know I’ve got to tell you James, this is the best interview I’ve ever had. [laughing] Because you’re really pushing the limit here.

JM:
Thank you [laughing]

WB:
Yes, it’s a very good interview. You’ve really crossed a lot of lines here which is good, of boundaries on different things, which I think is good. I think one that I learned as a kid, is my dad built a house, and he had us build it, when he was working during the daytime, he would tell us how to do that. So the ability to build things is good, but that was when I was a kid. Later on in life, when I was going in the high tech industry, I think I grasped the idea when you’re in engineering you realize there’s a limit of your finances, there’s a limit [on] how much time you can do things. So I think developing those relationships has worked well here, like I should’ve built that building three years ago, and I could’ve, but I would’ve gone in debt for it, could I have survived that? I’m not sure, but I didn’t want to gamble it away. I didn’t want to gamble the farm away just for a building. But it’s necessary, so I think all of the computer design work that I was involved in always was five years out, three years out. So I was never stationed at, you know this laptop, this is obsolete to me working in that business today. We were always looking further out, further out. So when we were talking about stand alone computers, we weren’t talking about stand alone computers, we were talking about the integration of the networks that you see today. You know, the cloud whatever, and different things like that. So it gives me an idea, and also the other thing that’s really a learning process is that, what people like and what they don’t like. You have to be very adaptable with that. You can’t push what you like. I’ll give you an example ok, I do not like McIntosh apples at all, ok, I do not like them. Because primarily what I was doing is I was always eating them out of the store, and they just tasted yucky, ok. So I put most of the orchard in and all, so I hadn’t got any McIntosh, and people would come here “where are your Macs? I want Macs.” So I said ok, I’m going to put some Macs in, and we did put some McIntosh apples in there, and then all of a sudden I got a tree ripe with Mac, and it was totally different than what I had ever eaten before. So, the thing is you have to be adaptable to what people are asking you all the time, in this field, this business whatever. Ok, I’m not sure if I answered your question [laughing], but I told you what I wanted to.

JM:
No, that’s great, I guess that’s a good segue. We’re approaching the end of our hour, and that’s a nice little segue, what’s your favorite apple? Or if you had to choose?

WB:
Ok, I can tell you my favorite apple, it’s, and people always think I’m going to pick one variety, I don’t. It’s whatever apple comes in season, is the best apple. Like in August, when I’m eating a Pristine apple out there, if you gave me a Pristine now I wouldn’t like it compared to the others, but it’s such a diversion, it’s like a new experience all over again. And then the Zestars come in, it’s a little sweeter apple, and it’s a great apple. And like I said, I didn’t like Macs, but when the Macs come in? It’s like there’s nothing like it. When the Macouns come in, at the height of their season, it’s almost a perfect apple. They’re not overly crunchy, but they’re crunchy and they’re sweet and juicy and just, so, my favorite apple is whatever one I can get my hands on that’s in season. [laughing]

JM:
Do you find yourself? Do you pick and eat as you go? When you’re out there working in the Orchard?

WB:
Before we go to market at times, we have to pick corn ok, sweet corn by the way, so you get up early in the morning. So we eat sweet corn just right off the cob like that. [You’ve] got to be careful, it can run through your system, if you eat too much of it [laughing], but yeah we do that. The other thing is, one of the things that you want to do when you’re going through the crop, you have different temperature days and whatever, so you want to make sure that the crop is getting ready, so I will try some from time to time. So the answer is yes, and we do the same thing with peas or beans or whatever, we’ll be eating some of those as we go through.

JM:
What is your, when you grocery shop for yourself, what is that process like for you? Do you go to Price Chopper in town?

WB:
Well I went to Price Chopper last night, and what I bought is ice cream, ok [laughter]. No I very rarely shop, very rarely do. Things I’ll shop for is like, out of season blue berries, they’re out of season here, but I love blueberries, and so, yeah, we do. But my wife does primarily, shopping, and I avoid it, I don’t like shopping, I don’t know why, I just don’t like it. I mean through a supermarket I mean, they just, I don’t know, just, I don’t know, I like basic things. My favorite bread is the ones my wife will bake. Favorite cookies is the one, you, I cannot get a cookie off any shelf that even matches what she’s doing, so why bother? Right? And she makes the apple cinnamon buns, they’re better than any store bought ones you’ll ever find. She makes the apple croissants and apple turnovers, and you just can’t get anything like that. So I don’t. I just eat what she’s cooking. [laughing]

JM:
And how was the Halloween season for you? This most recent one? Is there, do you see an influx of apple pickers?

WB:
No, no, not at all, not during Halloween at all, there’s nothing like [that]. Oh yeah, they don’t want to buy apples, they’re all gone anyway, or mush. No, not Halloween, Halloween’s too late in the season, but the only thing you see is a day or two before a lot of people come in picking pumpkins, but that’s about it.

JM:
You do pumpkins here?

WB:
We do, we do. Yeah, we have a pumpkin patch and people actually go pick their pumpkin out of the pumpkin patch or the ones we pick out here. So they pick either berries, apples, or pumpkins. We’ve shied away from them picking anything like soft fruit like peaches, or any of the vegetables, a lot of damage, there’s a lot of damage in the apple crop too, but you can mitigate that by some of the expense that you charge them. A dollar fifty a pound is not expensive, but when you’re eating a bunch of apples in the orchard and throwing them, or breaking branches or whatever, you know it takes its toll so.

JM:
Well is there anything else you have for us?

WB:
You’ve unwound me ok. I think this has been a great interview, just from the point of view that you’ve covered a lot of different areas. I’m grateful for that.

JM:
Yeah, thank you for your time and for being so eloquent about all of your experience here.

WB:
You oughta see the bill [laughing]

JM:
Alright thank you.

WB:
You’re welcome.

Duration

30:00 - Track 1
29:51 - Track 2

Bit Rate/Frequency

441 kbps

Time Summary

Track 1, 00:00 - Early life & starting an orchard
Track 1, 15:37 - Organics & farmers' markets
Track 1, 21:00 - CSA program
Track 1, 26:00 - Weather
Track 1, 29:53 - Apple tree planting
Track 2, 00:00 - Grafting
Track 2, 03:59 - Corn
Track 2, 06:30 - Farming community
Track 2, 13:25 - Expenses
Track 2, 16:55 - Friendships
Track 2, 20:17 - Pruning process

Files

Citation

James Matson, “Wilfred Bruneau, November 9, 2017,” CGP Community Stories, accessed May 27, 2018, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/323.