Hillside Orchards

Paul & Sarah Thelen
Berrien Springs, MI
Integrated Pest Management

In the southwestern corner of Michigan, in the small town of Berrien Springs, Paul and Sarah Thelen grow fruit trees, and lots of them. The Thelens own Hillside Orchards, a one-hundred acre farm just miles from Lake Michigan. The farm is populated by apple, peach, apricot, nectarine, and cherry trees, along with raspberry and blueberry patches. Hillside is also one of the largest producers of organic chestnuts in the Midwest. The farm has been in Sarah’s family since 1836, and it remains a family business, with the Thelens’ two daughters involved in bringing Hillside’s yearly harvests to local farmers markets.

Since the Thelens fruit crops grow on trees, their idea of crop rotation is that of decades, rather than seasons. Paul notes that they do rotate their tree plantings every 10-20 years, depending on the variety of fruit. They implement Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to deter insects from feasting on the “fruits” of their labor. Paul attends several agricultural meetings and conventions each year to stay abreast of the latest methods for insect & disease controls, irrigation efficiencies, labor rules and regulations, and other farm practices. He looks forward to these opportunities to interact with other growers from the Midwest and across the country to discuss growing and marketing crops.

The unpredictability of the weather is always one of the greatest challenges a farmer faces. This year’s rather severe conditions have wreaked havoc on farms across the region, and Hillside was no exception. The unusually warm spell in March prompted the trees to blossom prematurely, and the ensuing frosts in April killed a good portion of their buds. Paul notes that the last frost event on April 26 reduced the farm’s crops below any sort of profitable outcome for the entire year. To make matters worse, summer arrived a couple months later and ushered in severe drought conditions for the greater part of the season. The Thelens employed trickle irrigation to prevent the fruit trees from stressing or dying off entirely. When the rain did finally arrive, it included a couple of hailstorms which damaged some of the apples not yet picked.

Despite the tribulations faced by the Thelens during this growing season, Paul remains an eternal optimist (after all, there’s always next season!). He values the opportunity to work through all of the seasons and watch the crops develop from blossoms all the way through to harvest. Once the fruit has been picked the Thelens enjoy the opportunity to interact with their customers at farmer’s markets and solicit feedback on how it stores and most importantly, how it tastes.

After decades in the farming business, Paul’s philosophy on farming remains tried and true. “We continue to work at growing the best tasting apples, peaches, cherries, and other fruits for our customers, who are our ultimate boss.”

Last Updated October 2012

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