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Pick-Your-Own Fruit And Nuts
Red Fern Farm became a “pick-your-own” operation against the will of owners Tom Wahl and Kathy Dice. Once they gave in to customer demand, they are glad they did.
  “We just mow the grass around our chestnut trees before the nuts mature and collect the money from our customers,” says Wahl. “A mature stand of chestnuts will generate about $10,000 per acre a year.”
  Wahl and Dice planted their first chestnuts in 1990 and added to the stand in 1992 and again in 2007 and 2008. The first trees started producing in 2000.
  Initially the 2 harvested the nuts themselves. Sales were by word of mouth.
  They also sold their chestnuts through Prairie Grove Chestnut Growers (Vol. 42, No. 5). That all changed in 2013.
  “We had a call from a family who begged us to let them come and pick,” says Wahl. They found out the father was dying of cancer and wanted to pick chestnuts one last time.
  “Within two days we had 20 others who wanted to pick,” says Dice. “By the next harvest we had a list of 70, and that has grown to 250 this past harvest.”
  People enjoy picking chestnuts so much that Wahl and Dice offer to buy anything picked in excess of what the customers want to take home. In 2018 take home prices ranged from $2.50 to $2.75 per lb. Customers could earn back 50¢ a lb. for nuts picked and not taken home.
  Two other markets have developed, again seemingly of their own accord. They include seedlings and scion wood.
  “One year I saved back a batch of nuts from 2 highly productive chestnuts,” says Wahl. “I exposed them to cold temperatures over winter and planted them in the spring. That fall a guy asked if he could buy them all.”
  Soon Wahl was not only starting seedlings to sell, but also experimenting with grafting one or more varieties on to a single seedling. He has grafted 2 heartnut strains onto a single black walnut and did as many as 27 Persimmon strains on a single tree. Grafted trees produce earlier than a standard seedling. But it’s a lot more work than selling seedlings.
  “People still wanted the different varieties so we started offering scion wood so people could do their own grafting,” he says. “It was another accidental sideline.
  “After we updated our website to offer the scion wood, it has really taken off,” says Dice. “This past season we had almost $1,000 in sales of pawpaw, persimmon, Asian pear, European pear, chestnut, heartnut, apple, plum and walnut.”
  They also offer tree shelters and stakes on their website, but their 10 acres of chestnuts is still their main source of income. In fact, the past 2 years Wahl and Dice have had to send overflow customers to other chestnut growers in the area.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Red Fern Farm, 13882 I Ave., Wapello, Iowa 52653 (ph 319 729-5905; www.redfernfarm.com).

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2019 - Volume #43, Issue #3