Greg and Andrea Heller know running a successful apple orchard and fruit farm takes hard work, a willingness to evolve and expand offerings and loyal customers. Without that combination, it’s unlikely Heller’s Orchards in Wapwallopen would be celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
Greg Heller, who is the sixth generation on his family’s farm and the third generation of the Heller family growing fruit, grew up with farming in his blood and the smell of apples wafting through the air. He began operating a forklift at the young age of 9. By age 12, he was spraying trees for his dad on a Massey Ferguson tractor. At the age of 16, he started making cider, pruning trees and planting them by hand. By the age of 20, he built a pole shed, painted the old barn several times, replaced the cider press, installed drip irrigation, installed a restroom and an office, planted a pear orchard and planted/re-planted different varieties of apples. By the age of 35, amongst countless jobs, he planted a peach orchard and built a packing house.
The Hellers were honored when Sen. Lisa Baker and Reps. Gerald Mullery and Eddie Day Pashinski stopped by the orchard recently to take a tour, learn more about its history and find out how the business operates.
Baker, R-20th, called the Heller Family and the farm and orchard that bears their name, “cornerstones of the community” that “have helped to put Wapwallopen on the apple lovers’ map.”
Andrea Heller gave credit to her husband, saying he “has an endless passion for farming.”
Her husband credited something else.
“We have been growing fruit successfully for 100 years. The one word that comes to mind is ‘dedication.’ I have dedicated my entire life to this orchard, and my mother has dedicated over 50 years of her life to growing the business,” Greg Heller said.
The farm’s market has been run by Ruth Heller for four decades. She said those who stop in, whether for the first time or the 51st time, are more than customers.
“They are my friends,” she said.
Mullery, D-119th, noted how important small family farms still are for rural America, but believes just being a small farm doesn’t equate to success.
“The quality of fruit and the values the Heller family has is what makes them so successful in the fruit growing business,” Mullery said.
Tarah Toohil, R-116th, whose district is home to the orchard, praised the family for their accomplishment and the product.
“Congratulations to the Heller family on a century of contributing to the success of Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry and for producing some of the best-tasting apples anywhere,” Toohil said.
Seventeen varieties of apples and five varieties of pears grow at the orchard. In addition, peaches, plums, nectarines and cherries are also grown and sold by the Hellers.
The 50-acre apple orchard and fruit farm has been a staple near the North Branch of the Susquehanna River and draws in visitors year round to buy fruit, baked goods, eggs and cider. In addition, the property hosts peach and apple festivals annually.
Founded by Hoyt Heller in 1919, the orchard began on just 20 acres of land. Hoyt’s son Quentin traveled to England in 1954 where he learned that dwarf trees allowed farmers to produce more fruit while using less land. He returned to the states with the trees and became one of the first apple growers in Pennsylvania to pioneer dwarf apple tree nurseries. He and his father cleared additional land to be used for the orchards and expanded the operation to 35 acres.
Greg added another 15 acres and, along with his wife Andrea, has grown wholesale operations. Their fruits are now sold at Wegmans, Gerrity’s and Mountain Fresh supermarkets.
— THE OFFICE OF SEN. LISA BAKER