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Family Farming History

From Switzerland to Wenksville: 190 yrs. of Farming Heritage

"Guy" and Ferd Wenk w/ team of mules

Early History

 

The history of what's now Three Springs Fruit Farm starts in Riehen, Switzerland in the year 1817.  It is in this town, east of the Rheine River, that our family genealogy is traced back to 1575.  Seeking an opportunity in the New World, John Wenk sailed off from the Port of Amsterdam at the young age of 17 and arrived in Philadelphia the following year to start his new life.

 John B. Wenk & wife Caroline

Arriving in America, he settled along of the slopes of the valley between Piney Mountain and Bear Mountain where today sits a small town bearing his name; Wenksville.  In 1824, he married Lavina Baldwin and began farming on land acquired from her family in 1842 - the start of our farming heritage at Three Springs Fruit Farm.

 

young Ferd WenkJohn died near the end of the civil war and the farm was willed to John B. Wenk, one of six children in the family.  However, John B. Wenk (right) died suddenly in 1884 at his son's barn raising and the family was forced to sell the farm in order to settle the estate.  This farm was purchased by Mildred Taylor McBeth's family and continues under family ownership today.  John B.'s son David Ferdinand "Ferd" Wenk (left) purchased the Miller Farm, adjacent to the family's homestead ground, and farmed there until 1901.  Looking to expand the operation at this time, Ferd sold that tract to purchase a larger farm a few hundred yards south - "Three Springs", as it was named on the original surveyors map, dating back to 1767.  Ferd's new 111 acre farm has been operated by our family ever since.

 

Ferd also holds the distinction of being the first to plant apple trees at Three Springs Fruit Farm in 1918.  We've been growing apples on one scale or another since that time.  The home farm was inherited by David "Guy" Wenk who willed it to his son, Donald Guy Wenk, who took ownership in 1945.

 

Fruit Growing and Expansion

 

Donnie, Janey, Dave, and JohnDonald had married Mary Jane MacBeth two years earlier, and while ten acres of apples had been planted between 1956 and 1958, the farm was still a more general operation with a heavy focus on hogs, chickens, steers, and field crops.  He made the decision to overhaul the farm into a fruit growing operation and in 1964 planted the majority of its acres in apples, working full time off the farm while the acres began to come into bearing.  Mary Jane supported the work on the farm by taking other jobs in local agriculture while raising their two sons, Dave and John.

 

Dave came back to the family business in 1980 with a degree in Horticulture from Penn State.  John followed in 1983, forming a partnership between Donald and his two sons.  The following year, 86 additional acres of apples were leased from Knouse Foods Cooperative, makers of Lucky Leaf and Musselman brand products you might find in your grocery stores.  An adjoining farm to that rental property was purchased in 1986.  In the farmhouse of that property, Dave and his wife Emily raised their young children, Ben and Rachel.  Another farm across the road from Dave's home farm added 46 additional acres when it was purchased in 1988.  John made his home on this farm and raised his kids Ashley, Lindsay, and Greg.

 

Donnine pruning apples during bloomIn 1994, the opportunity to rent the nearby farm of family friend Donnie Weaner provided the brothers the chance to grow peaches and pears for the first time and added another 90 acres of fruit in to the Three Springs fold.  More recently, the opportunity has arisen to farm on acres once owned by our ancestors.  First, through purchase of 27 acres of Ferd's first farm from the Pitzer family, and second through a rental agreement with our cousins, the McBeths in 2006 and 2008 respectively. 

 

The fruit grown during this period of time has transitioned from the processing market to the fresh market and, most recently, the retail market.  Dave's son Ben returned to the farm in 2007, ushering in the seventh generation of family farming.  Ben chose to pursue retail marketing for Three Springs, adding a number of vegetables and small fruit to their crop diversity and bringing them to the Headhouse Farmers Market in Philadelphia that first year.  Subsequent years have seen their farmers markets opportunities grow to include weekly visits to the Baltimore and Washington areas as well. 

 

Three Springs Fruit Farm has a long history in Adams County, but remains dedicated to its future.  The overwhelming majority of Three Springs Fruit Farm's farmed acreage (335 acres) are now preserved farmland - insuring our agricultural heritage for years to come.  Its members remain active in such groups as the State Horticulture Association of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Apple Marketing Board, Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture among others to insure this future is a viable one.

 

Donnie and the hounds

Barn, home farm 1970s?