More and more stories are sprouting up about people returning to their roots and to the ‘old way’ of doing things. There’s a growing feeling in the marketplace that buying local is a good thing, and some have even left successful careers behind to become producers for that local market.
This is true of Thierbach Orchards & Berry Farm co-owner, Otto Thierbach, who, in 1992, decided to plant some peach trees on his family’s property in Marthasville, Missouri. “My husband grew up on this farm,” says Otto’s wife, Susie. “It's been in his family for many generations, but it wasn’t an orchard until he started it all those years ago.”
According to Otto, his great-grandfather, Otto Ahmann and his wife, Elise, probably purchased the property atop a Missouri River bluff sometime in the late-1800s. “But they raised soybeans, wheat, corn, cattle and hogs,” Otto Thierbach notes. “I’ve always liked growing things, and I started the orchard as a hobby, but then it grew into much more. When Susie and I got married in 1998, the peaches were starting to produce, and then an apple orchard 4 miles down the road came up for sale—so we decided to buy it.”
From peaches and apples, the Thierbachs expanded to blackberries, blueberries, sour cherries, strawberries, gooseberries and raspberries—with everything available for a pick-your-own experience. Otto explains that the blueberries and tart cherries have a couple of weeks left before the end of their season, and the blackberries are just beginning to ripen. “The blackberry season runs for roughly five weeks—through the end of July,” he says. “We grow domestic blackberries, which are thornless and easier to pick than wild blackberries. A lot of us have fond memories of picking wild blackberries while growing up, but the berries we grow are larger, sweeter and taste much better than those we picked as kids.”
Otto explains that our region, with its heat and humidity, requires conventional growing practices when growing peaches and apples, but he also notes that pesticides are not necessary for the berries. “A good thing about blackberries is that they are indigenous to the state of Missouri, so there aren’t a lot of natural pests that bother them,” he notes. “I don’t spray the blueberries or strawberries, either.”
Susie points out that picking tart cherries from a tree is a unique offering in Missouri. “We might be the only orchard in the area that has pick-your-own tart cherries,” she says. “We just love the pick-your-own idea—we have many customers who come back week after week, year after year. We are very family-friendly and don't mind the kids being in the patches—after all, picking your own is a family tradition for many people.”
Speaking of apples, Thierbach Orchards & Berry Farm, which is located about an hour from St. Louis, offers about 12 to 15 different varieties, according to Susie. “And we have a lot of varieties that are not grocery-store varieties. Our most popular apple is called a Mutsu. It's a green apple that looks like a Granny Smith, but it's really sweet. It's usually ripens in September, and people will start calling in August, asking if the Mutsus are ready.” Along with the Mutsus, the Thierbachs also grow Blushing Golds, Jonathans, Galas, Fujis, Honeycrisps and Winesaps, among others.
Amidst the crops, Otto and Susie also are raising two children on the farm: Elise, 11, and Wesley, 10. “They are doing very well with it all—they're good with customers,” Susie says. “They help out with greeting people and making change. They are learning lots of good life lessons, we hope.”
While farming is a large part of Otto’s past, growing up for Susie never included the thought of becoming a farmer. “Heavens, no!” she says with a laugh. “I have my doctorate in violin performance, and I also teach at Webster University and Lindenwood University. I'm a freelance player, and I play for The Metropolitan Orchestra of Saint Louis. But farming is pretty much all-consuming—I wear many hats!”
For Otto, becoming a full-time farmer meant giving up his musical career as a trombone player. “Otto has a master’s degree in trombone performance,” Susie explains. “He doesn't play much anymore because he is 100 percent busy with orchards. But he played the trombone professionally for the Tommy Dorsey band, and he worked on cruise ships that traveled around the world.”
And while the Thierbachs’ first careers were not as farmers, they have adjusted nicely to this way of life. “It is wonderful to be around all this fresh fruit all the time,” Susie says. “After dinner, we take a walk and pick fresh fruit and eat it. It's pretty amazing to just walk out the door and have all this available.”
LaVerda (Otto’s mom) Thierbach’s Cherry Pie
Crust (or crust recipe of your choice)
•1 1/3 c flour, sifted
•1 pinch of salt sifted into the flour
•1/2 c Crisco
Stir ingredients with a fork until crumbly. Add five tablespoons of water. (The amount of water needed depends on the humidity—add one or two more tablespoons, if necessary.) Divide in half and roll flat. This recipe makes enough for one double crust pie.
•2 quarts freshly picked tart cherries, pits removed, enough to fill 4 cups
•1 1/3 c sugar
•1/3 c flour
•1/2 t cinnamon
•1 1/2 T butter
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Pit cherries. (Tip: Use a paper clip to pop the pits out if you don't have a cherry pitter.) Set aside. Line the bottom of a nine-inch pie plate with first crust. In a separate bowl, combine the sugar, flour and cinnamon. Gently stir the cherries into this mixture and put into the pastry-lined pie pan. Dot with butter. Cover with the top crust and cut slits in the crust. Bake at 425 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and juice bubbles through the slits. Serves eight.