In June 2010, Rich Eshleman was involved in a serious motorcycle accident that interrupted his life and daily routine on the family’s 240-acre orchard in Sandusky County. Hospitalized for more than two months 50 miles away in Toledo, his family turned their focus to his health. But when farming is your livelihood, you simply can’t push aside what’s happening out in the fields especially at the height of a stellar season for cherries. Farmers hope for enough rain and plenty of sun, but they count on others at times like this.
Rich’s wife, Betty who manages the on-farm market, was making daily trips to the hospital to be with him, and her sister-in-law, Ann Spriggs, stepped in to make sure the market was stocked with homegrown, ripened fruits and produce their customers expect.
“At the start of the busiest season on the farm and with sour cherry orders coming in,” said Spriggs, “we did what we had to do.” Customer orders for popular tart Montmorency cherries shipped in from Michigan and New York flooded in and about 13,000 pounds of frozen cherries were distributed to customers for their summer pies, jams and freezers.
Twenty acres on the farm is in cherries (80 more in apples and another 100 in stone fruits such as peaches, apricots and plums), each one picked by hand. Longtime employee Erma Cruz, who runs the wholesale and packing operation at the farm, could be found with the field crew in the orchard on a ladder lending a hand in the picking. Last year, the seasonal crew of 30 picked 10 tons or 20,000 pounds of cherries during its short-lived harvest and shipped them to accounts throughout northern Ohio.
A laborious task, it gave Erma time to think about a lot of things but mostly she wondered, “Have we picked enough cherries for our customers today?”
The cherries at the top of the tree ripen first and are picked, leaving the rest in arm’s reach for Eshleman’s u-pick customers who fill their baskets with Emperor Francis Sweet, a productive light-colored variety, for eating and canning and Rainier, a premium dark and juicy variety. A regular crowd also arrives during the height of cherry season to pick tart varieties to use for Cherry Bounce, a homemade cordial, crafted in the summer, poured in the winter.
Eshleman was surrounded by many who, although concerned for him, carried on with the daily chores of the farm as they have for the past 15 years or more. Osbaldo “Skinny” Perez who has been Rich’s right hand, managed the harvest and pruning duties in the orchards, and Tony Albarado who assisted with the packing and fall storage, could be his left. Both took on more responsibilities without hesitation to see the farm through a busy season. “I owe a lot of people,” Rich said.
Last year, cherry season came and went, as did peach and most of apple season, as Rich worked toward a successful recovery but he said, “I’m ready to jump back into this season.” He knows that life isn’t always a bowlful of cherries and when it begins to feel like the “pits,” having friends, family and dedicated employees in your corner is a blessing.
Marilou Suszko is a food writer from Vermilion. She is the author of Farms and Foods of Ohio: From Garden Gate to Dinner Plate.
For information on Eshleman Fruit Farm, on-farm market and ripening schedule go to eshlemanfruitfarm.com
Eshleman Fruit Farm
753 East Maple Street
Clyde, Ohio 43410