Century Farm Orchards: Preserving History Through Heirloom Apples

20111023_RAFI_David_Vernon_048sFarm: Century Farm Orchards
Operator: David Vernon
Production: Apples, Orchard
Location: Reidsville, Rockingham County, NC

“The use of heritage exhibits in marketing provides a doorway for modern families to reconnect with their agricultural heritage, to learn why a vibrant farm community is important to them and how that community feeds them 365 days a year.”
– David Vernon

David Vernon is a high school chemistry teacher by day and a nurseryman by night. He has been farming for more than a decade on a portion of his grandfather’s land where tobacco was cultivated for many generations. In 1996, David purchased part of his grandparent’s farm with plans to develop a new enterprise. He established Century Farm Orchards, a family-owned and operated orchard and nursery that specializes in southern apple trees. The family’s orchard is now home to more than 500 varieties of apples, some dating back to the 1600s.

David Vernon

At Century Farm Orchards, great value is placed upon unique, regional heirloom varieties that are typically selected for a combination of their adaptability, sensory attributes, and unusual characteristics. As one of few nurseries that offer these types of heirloom apple varieties, they occupy a unique niche in the industry.

David VernonOver the years, David has sought to increase public appreciation of heirloom apples. He and his family regularly host events and tours in an effort to educate people about the stunning diversity of southern apples and their many culinary uses. In 2010, David developed an innovative plan to construct a new venue on the family’s land in order to host “historical marketing and educational events.”

In David’s words, the goal of the project was “to develop an historical and educational approach for marketing southern heirloom and modern apple nursery stock, apples, and value-added apple products.” The project included retrofitting an old farmhouse built in the 1790s, transforming it into both a storefront and an education center. David describes it as a “a hub for gathering customers’ orders, selling apples, selling value-added products made from apples, making and tasting homemade cider, demonstrations of planting and pruning trees, and as a gathering place to speak with customers.”

David VernonDavid hoped his project would also provide an example for other farmers of how they can draw on their farm’s history to create what he calls “a richer on-farm experience for customers that will increase customer farm visits and increase on-farm sales for a variety of farm products.”

Century Farm Orchards holds four open house events each year, and they are quite popular. David has estimated that the farm averages more than 250 customers per day. The farm’s visitors travel from all over the southeastern US to purchase apple trees, apples, and various value-added products available at the farm.

Check out pictures and documentation of the building project on Century Farm Orchards website here.