Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Queen of the Fruits

Queen of the Fruits
Early settlers, like HenryO, planted a few apple trees to supplement their subsistence food growing. Some of the Casco farmers may have brought seedling fruit trees with them from the fruit areas of Ohio or New York. By the 1880s many of the incidental orchards became the means of paying off the farm mortgage and providing some comfort and independence. There were ready markets for the fruit in Milwaukee and Chicago. During the summer months there were daily boat trips from Glenn and South Haven to these markets. Peaches were packed in baskets and apples in barrels. Fruit was shipped and sold fresh. It was not until the 1920s that commercial canning was started when Marc Hutchinson organized the Fennville Canning Company. This became Michigan Fruit Canners, Inc. in 1927.

Legend has it that French traders found Indians munching on small tasteless peaches. Peach trees were first cultivated in the area around 1780 at the St. Joseph Trading Post on the river a mile from Lake Michigan. In Casco, peaches were first planted in 1869 and by 1880 thousands of bushels were being produced. Some farmers had 2,000 to 2,500 trees. Peaches were sold through wholesale brokers. Farmers were given a rubber stamp to identify the destination for their peach baskets.

Up until the early 1900s big profits were made on peaches, "The Queen of The Fruits". Then the peach bubble burst. First diseases started appearing (the yellows, curl leaf and the little peach). Next the quality and quantity decreased because soil fertility was not maintained. Then the disastrous freeze of October 10th, 1906, killed practically every peach tree in SW Michigan. Only farmers having the most favorable locations for growing peaches attempted to replant their orchards. The growing of fruits and vegetable is still a prominent piece of the economy in Casco Township.

At The Farm (July 15, 2009)
Brother Allan is preparing for the 2009 peach harvest. The sweet and sour cherries are winding down as the peaches ripen. "The Queen of The Fruits" will be available for the July 25/26 weekend and through the end of August. Marketing the peach crop today is different than the 1880s and 90s but yet the same. Most is sold fresh and consumed by people from the same market areas. Peaches are picked up at the farm by retail farm markets, retail customers and u-pickers. A small portion of the crop is sent to processing companies.

The Evans (Mother's side) Family Reunion was held last weekend. The farm kids have gotten their chickens inspected and will be at the County Fair next week with their chickens. If you get over to the South Haven area stop at the retail building (109th and 64th) for some of the ripe stuff. I plan to start selling my brother's peaches to the Marshall Farm Market July 25th. Thanks for checking the blog.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Sam's Hands - 1880

Sam’s Hands - 1880

Was it a sawmill, sorghum press or maple sugar bush accident? I have read or heard that each of the three was the cause of Sam Leisure loosing both hands. One just above the elbow and the other just below the elbow. At about age 17 or 18, Sam was working for Henry Overhiser when he lost both hands. Henry had a sawmill, sugar bush operation and may have had a sorghum press (see photo).

In 1880, shortly after the accident, Henry had a store built by Sam Galbreath on land he owned. Henry put Sam in charge so he could support his family. With the help of others he had a good business for years, until many began to charge items and never pay. Later he had a peddling wagon, selling tin ware, socks, jackets, and gloves. He would also buy hides, rags, papers, and old rubber. With the reins around his waist he was able to drive his team of horses. His customers would make their own change by going into Sam’s pocket. In his later days he and his wife Mate moved to California to live near two of their children.

The store, at the NE corner of 107th Ave. and 64th Street, became know as Leisure because Sam ran the store there. In 1893 Aldelbert Johnston bought the store. Ownership then passed to Andrew Litts and then to Riley Overhiser. Riley’s East Casco Handy Store at Leisure is the one I grew up loving. The store building is gone but the fond memories live on. Well, live on as long as some of us old people are still here.

At the Farm (July 1, 2009)
A category F-2 tornado hit the farm about 3 a. m. on Friday June 19. Large limbs from a silver maple near the house damaged the tool shed roof and mobile home used by Carlos. Several power poles were blown over and the electricity was off for three days. Trees in some of the windrows were blown over. The family did take cover in the basement and are all safe. Only damage to the crops was some wind damage to one block of sour cherries.

Aaron is still playing baseball in a tournament and the kids are starting to think about what they will take to the Fair in mid July. Peach thinning has been completed. You-pick and they pick sweet cherries will be available starting Friday July 3 at the 109th and 64th retail building. Lucero (Lucy) will be helping again this year in the sales building. Sour cherries should also be available. Allan and his crew will start shaking sour cherries the week of July 6th and they will have pitted sour cherries starting the weekend of July 11.

Speaking of July 11, that is my birthday. To celebrate we will be on the Marshall Area Garden tour that Saturday and Sunday. Check out this link for more information.

Don’t forget - eat your fruit!