“You are always welcome.”
That’s what Sally Beckwith remembers about Beckwith Orchards when she was a little girl.
Now, Sally runs the century farm and her childhood memories are still true.
Orchard technology has changed. Spraying the orchard used to be, according to John Beckwith, “the worst job.” Now he says it is “a piece of cake.” As Mark Beckwith puts it, “The farm has gone from horse drawn equipment to air-conditioned, stereo, and diesel-powered equipment.” John declares “The fruit is just as good.”
Frank, Jay, Charles, John and Jacque along with sons Joseph, Ryan, Sam, David, and Jacob have resided at the orchard farmhouse at 1617 Lake Rockwell Road. That is five generations living on the same farm, or three Beckwith Orchard Pokémon Go sites ago.
The Beckwith Farm covers 110 acres. There are 1,200 fruit trees within the sixteen acre orchard bearing twenty varieties of apples, six varieties of peaches, and some pears and plums. A day with a full crew picking could yield 20,000 pounds of fruit. Fifteen acres are planted with corn and the remainder is deciduous hardwood forest. What is not grown here, the sweet corn, peppers, green beans, tomatoes, maple syrup, and honey are grown in Portage County, some just four miles down the road. That will change as the 15 bee hives kept on the farm to boost apple pollination should produce 300 pounds of honey this year.
The action gets rolling at the end of July and it cranks until Christmas Eve at noon. The early apples are the transparents and ginger golds which ripen up just as the orchard opens up. Among the last apples to get picked are the Granny Smith in November.
A portion of the land is community garden. Twenty plots are donated to the Kent Garden Club with Hal Hall’s dahlias—100 different kinds—worth a visit alone.
Another reason to visit is to see the efforts of Charles and Marilyn Beckwith who raised enough children to place right between the Brady Bunch and John and Kate Plus Eight.
The heart and soul of this rural landmark were honored with a Kent City Schools Award, in part for the 3,000 students that tour the orchard each year, and for their charity work with The Center of Hope, Birdie Bags, and hosting the Lions Club Corn Fest. Later that same month, Charles and Marilyn Beckwith were given a lifetime achievement award from the Portage County Parks for deeding land for trail head parking.
Marilyn was the driving force of the barn restoration. Years ago, Jay Beckwith and his brothers tore off one corner of the barn to put out a fire that was caused by a lightning strike. Frank and Mary Beckwith returned from the state fair and at once noticed the ripped up barn corner and charred beam. After it was sorted out, the parents realized that the boys had saved the barn. The burnt section was evident during the extreme barn makeover. The barn features the original slate roof, new stainless steel gutters and downspouts, repurposed barn flooring from Wayne County, Ohio, and Amish handmade windows and hinges. Sally credits her mother and father for the Barn Again project because “They saved it again.” The barn now has lights and full electrical service. Charles used to hand-milk the cows in the barn by the light of a lantern. (He also once leaped from the roof of the barn into a hay mound just as his father rounded the corner of the barn. This event is not as well-known as Brady’s Leap).
According to Sally Beckwith, “Mom and Dadlaid the groundwork for the business. They did it all with their blood, sweat, and tears.” Sally explained of her “easy transition” from managing major urban businesses to a farm market because of the foundation her parents built. Sally worked in Chicago, Columbus, and the largest sporting goods store in the largest mall in the country, The Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. People told Sally, “We always knew that you would come back.”
It was the perfect trilogy of obligation, family history and potential. Like the fruit on the trees, every year the business grows.
Besides generations of the Beckwith Family living at the orchard, there have been generations of customers. Many can recall purchasing apples from Jay and Grace Beckwith. There was a hand-lettered sign that instructed customers to honk their automobile horn. Apples in baskets were sold at the bottom of the shop. From the baskets, the apples were put in a paper bag. Cash was kept in a tin box and the accounting was done with a goldenrod tablet. Some remember buying cider from across the road at Uncle John Beckwith’s farm. Sally describes current customers as “loyal, friendly, and appreciative.” She observes that, “Customers are in a good mood. They enter a farm, not an amusement park or playground. They recognize the beauty and peacefulness. They know that they will be greeted and have service.”
She attributes this to her help. “We have been blessed with our great staff and retired teacher tour guides.”
Critters abound at Beckwith Orchards. There are great blue herons, bluebirds, eagles, and deer. Bear have been spotted at the beehives and a Portage County deputy rounded the curve in his squad car one night to see a bear at the dumpster behind the cider mill. Scat and tracks were evident at the shattered trunk of an apple tree. After all, the tree was a honey crisp. As the coyote population has increased, there has been a notable decline in the woodchuck population.
Besides more coyotes, there have been more high school senior photographs, engagements, and weddings in recently.
Like the hobos that rode the trains that Grace Beckwith fed on the porch, everyone is always welcome to hang out and explore.
Just follow the one rule that is clearly posted.
Beckwith Orchards customers are forbidden to hurry.