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Apple farms feel bite



Published: Sat, August 31, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Once a major crop, Mahoning County farms now have only 300 to 400 acres in apples, said one farmer.

By MARALINE KUBIK

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

CANFIELD -- Apple pie may be the all-American dessert, but baking one from scratch is a bygone craft, putting a pinch on farmers who used to earn a living selling truckloads of the fruit to wholesalers.

"Apples used to be one of the major crops in Mahoning County but it's been decreasing steadily," said George Less.

He grew up on an apple farm and as a fair director oversees fruit exhibits.

"It's hard to make a living raising apples," Less said. Years ago Mahoning County farmers could sell them by the truckload, but now apples from Washington state have cornered the market.

"Smuckers used to take our apples," Less' sister, Susan Phillips of Canfield, said. Today, she said, "I don't even know where they have processing plants -- it's not in Orrville, where their headquarters is. I know that."

To survive, many local apple farmers have developed retail markets.

Luring visitors

Ed Less, another of Susan Phillips' brothers, still operates the family business, Less & amp; Less Farm, Canfield.

To create a market for his apple crop, George Less said his brother transformed his farm into a visitor and tourist attraction offering hay rides and a corn maze. Then, Less said, visitors buy a couple of pecks of apples.

Less' father and three uncles were all apple farmers but today, only his brother is in the orchard business.

Many farmers have sold their land to developers because it is much more valuable as a developable greenfield than a working farm, Less said. Only 300 or 400 acres in Mahoning County remain as apple orchards, he added; Green Township has the largest number of apple farms in Mahoning County.

Fewer entries

The decline in farmland is mirrored in the number of fruit entries at the fair. Display space has been slashed in half -- wine exhibits were added last year and fill the space vacated by the fruit growers.

This year, there are 104 entries and 30 varieties of apples on display, Phillips said.

Altogether, apples on display would fill about 30 bushel baskets, Less added. All of them will be donated to Second Harvest Food Bank at the close of the fair.

kubik@vindy.com




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