Cape Gazette
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MADE IN SUSSEX

Old way is preferred way at T.S. Smith & Sons

Apples still picked, sorted and packed by hand
By Ron MacArthur | Dec 19, 2012
Photo by: Ron MacArthur Black-twig apples grow on some of the oldest trees in the Smith's orchards.

Bridgeville — T.S. Smith & Sons in Bridgeville is one of the oldest farming operations in Sussex County, and for the most part the Smith family says, the old ways are the best ways.

The orchard and farm have been in continuous operation by the Smith family since 1907, now in its fourth generation. The farm is the state's oldest apple, peach and nectarine grower and the only apple grower in Sussex County.

The apple-packing house is the oldest in the state, dating back to 1928, with most of the original equipment still in use. Even the sorting and packing equipment has the Smith mark on it being produced by a family company in the 1930s. The farm and market are on Delaware's Agri-Tourism Trail and the packing house and market on Redden Road are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Charlie Smith, who along with brothers Tom and Matt Smith now run the farm, said they have intentionally chosen not to modernize. Apples are still picked, sorted and packaged by hand. Most of the farm's 80 acres of apples are sold within a 100-mile radius of Bridgeville, including local farmers' markets. The orchard once contained upwards of 300 acres.

The Smiths process about 50,000 bushels of apples each year so it's a constant process of ripping down old trees and planting new ones. Smith said the average apple tree can bear good fruit for about 25 years; the average peach tree for about 15 years. When trees are torn down, the wood is sold for smoking purposes. Dwarf trees planted closer together are starting to become the norm, Smith said.

Selling apples wholesale and retail, T.S. Smith grows 15 different types of apples, with the harvest season running from July into fall. Apples are also stored in cold storage and processed after harvest. The market is open until Christmas.

Although apples are the Smith's signature product, there is much more to the farm. Orchards make up a tenth of the 800-acre farm on both sides of Route 13 just outside Bridgeville. The Smiths also grow sweet corn, watermelons, pumpkins, cantaloupe and other vegetables including asparagus, squash and broccoli. The Smith's market, located within the packing house on Redden Road, is known far and wide for its cider, dumplings and doughnuts, made fresh daily.

The Smiths have also planted cherry trees, plums, figs, beach plums, pawpaws and quince to diversify their orchards.

The Smith's embrace the past, but also look to the future by expanding agri-tourism opportunities at the farm and branching out with two satellite markets. The Smiths teamed up with Great Shoals Winery to produce Black Twig Hard Apple Cider, the first of its kind in Delaware.

On the farm, the Smiths use no-till and crop rotation and water everything on the farm with an underground trickle irrigation system to save water. The farm also has its own solar-powered cold storage unit.

The farm was the first to sponsor farm-to-school programs that provide fresh fruits and vegetables to students in the Indian River, Woodbridge and Seaford school districts. Restaurants, including Nage in Rehoboth Beach, also feature T.S. Smith produce.

 

 

Apple grades:

Extra fancy, fancy

Fancy

No. 1

No. 2 (used for cider)

 

Some of the 15 types of apples grown at T.S. Smith: Yellow; Golden Delicious; Honey Crisp; Red Delicious; Rome; Staymen; Gala; Fugi; Black Twig; and Lodi.

 

T.S. Smith & Sons market has not changed much over the decades. The floor is wood from the old Bridgeville High School gymnasium. The market is open from mid-April through Dec. 24. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
All it takes is time. Today's apple trees are smaller, planted closer together and start bearing fruit sooner. These dwarf honey crisp trees are three years old and will bear fruit next year. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Apples in crates are piled up outside the packing house ready for processing. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Driving a fork lift, Marcelino Cerda moves crates of apples to the packing house water dump to float apples onto a grading line. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
After apples are picked, some end up in cold storage while others are immediately taken to the packing house. Apples are placed in water so they are not damaged as they float to the conveyor belt to start the sorting process. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Bill Trice uses a ring apple sizer to grade apples. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Sorting apples is still done by hand in the Smith's packing house. On the roller grader are (l-r) Ella Walker, Maribel Perez and Maria Rojas. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
As apples move down a series of conveyor belts, Richard Walker separates cooking apples from juice apples, a grading process that ensures only the best apples are marketed to the public. They are graded for size and condition. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Ashley Gayle fills an 18 bushel bin for a customer in the packing house. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Sorted apples are ready for processing. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Crates are piled high behind T.S. Smith & Sons packing house off Redden Road near Bridgeville. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Apples are always in season at T.S. Smith & Sons. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
The final product. Red delicious apples, a traditional favorite, are ready for sale. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
Apples move along a conveyor belt in the Smith's packing house, which dates back more than 80 years. (Photo by: Ron MacArthur)
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