Family fruit farm growing more than just apples
Submitted by ERIE COUNTY ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CORP.
Quarry Hill Orchards in Berlin Heights is busy building – a family, a barn and a name for themselves across the region. Now in its second generation of family ownership, owner Bill Gammie has welcomed home his son Ben. Ben, the third generation and heir apparent, in partnership with his wife, Brooke, is now laying the foundation for what their own legacy on the farm will look like – both figuratively and literally with the announcement of a new retail market. As Bill has shared from The Art of the Good Life, “The good life is only achieved by constant readjustment.”
Since the Gammie family’s presence on the farm in the early 1930s, they have made constant readjustments for the success of the business. Starting primarily as a vegetable farm with a small plot of apple trees to the side, the farm later transitioned fully to fruit. Next Bill invested in customer relationships and experiences, growing their retail presence to what it is today. Now, in their next readjustment, Ben plans to enhance that experience and make Quarry Hill a destination.
Ben began to build his vision for this immersive retail experience all the way back in his high school days. He remembers helping on the farm between life and football practice and noticing the limited amount of space. Ben’s career path took him away from the farm for ten years – time he used to incubate his vision and meet his wife Brooke who would enhance and support that vision. In these years, Ben and Brooke, both civil engineers, would visit coffee shops and take notes of concepts and ideas they wanted to “bring back to the farm.” The decision to build the new barn though is driven by more than a coffee shop vision, but also a business need. For the last 10 years, the company’s current space configuration has been growth-prohibitive for the business’ two main sources of income – retail and wholesale – each making up about 45 percent of the business. The current pack house and retail store share about 7,000 square feet of space, and the new retail market barn will add about 5,900 square feet dedicated to customer and employee experiences.
This will allow both operations to run smoothly and more safely, as families shopping for their fruit needs won’t be fighting for space with forklifts.
The barn-raising and build-out process are being conducted in the same way the Gammies conduct business – with attention to detail and customers. The frame of the barn is a civil-war-era Timber Frame barn salvaged from a member of the “extended” Gammie family – an employee down the road. Timber Frame barns are unique
to the midwest and the Gammies are working with local expert Dwight Miller to drive the Timber Framing process. The barn will also incorporate hand-hewn white oak beams from another family barn – one beam in particular to be prominently featured over the checkout counter and just below the balcony loft that will overlook the store. As Civil Engineers, the Gammies are serving as general contractors themselves and overseeing the process. They are working with local subcontractors who are all also Quarry Hill customers. The Gammies have truly welcomed these workers as part of the extended operational family. Each subcontractor has embraced the project as they not only have the technical expertise to perform the work, but also cultural knowledge surrounding the farm – they know how the business functions and what it’s trying to accomplish and can incorporate this into their work on the barn. There is a sense of ownership on this project beyond the norm.
While the construction process is exciting, the excitement will ramp up to a new level in June 2020 when the market opens to customers. The orchard will have the opportunity to more prominently display some of their favorite products, expand partnerships with other regional food entrepreneurs, and deliver a new level of customer experience that is non-existent in our region today. As dad, Bill says, “though it’s a bit risky, Quarry Hill
has to be a destination for people, we have to expand the the season, and we have to bring people to the corner of Mason and Humm Roads.”