CRIST FAMILY FARMING STORY
Written by Joy D. Crist, Updated 2016
The Crists are descendants of Orange County’s early settlers, Sarah Wells and the Bull family. In 1883 the Crist family was farming on what is now partially Orange County Park. The family out grew the space, leading young Francis Crist & new bride Lizzy Day to purchase the current “home farm” site off Berea Road in Montgomery.
In 1927 James Day Crist & wife Nina began the transition from animals and various crops to focus on apples. “JD” built one of the first on farm apple storages in the Hudson Valley in 1931. Apples were often shipped via trolley to Newburgh, and the Hudson River Day Line boat to New York City.
In 1952 after WWII, Edward & J. Roscoe Crist, “Crist Brothers”, being enthusiastic Cornell graduates, pursued planting semi-dwarf orchards (mostly 167 trees/acre), building controlled atmosphere storages for crisp apples into the spring, and select purchases of prime apple growing sites. Ed primarily oversaw the orchard operations and participated in local organizations. His wife Lois kept honeybees, assisted with apple harvest quality control in the orchard, and monitored cold storages for oxygen and CO2 until spring, while teaching and playing the violin. Roscoe ran the packinghouse and storages, participated in the national apple industry, and pursued an avid interest in local history. His wife Marylou did the farm’s payroll & bill paying.
In 1976 Jeffrey Crist joined the family business and “Crist Bros. Orchards, Inc.” a closely held family corporation was formed. In 1980 Jeff married Joy, who grew up on Dressel Farms, another Hudson Valley apple orchard. Continuing the tradition of Cornell educations, family dedication, and active participation in community and industry organizations, the 4th generation continued to seek out ways to improve. Jeff pursued test trials with Cornell & the Hudson Valley Laboratory to improve integrated pest management and horticultural practices. Joy introduced computerized record keeping in her role as office and packinghouse manager. Crisis hit the apple industry in the late 1990’s when national over production converged with grocery store consolidations, heavy competition from imports due to the high US dollar, and serious weather related crop losses in 2000 & 2002. Responding, Jeff Crist helped lead the effort to create a national crop insurance program for specialty crops including apples. Also during his leadership years in the US Apple Association he advocated for all growers to join him in improving the quality of the apples in the marketplace by using the new “MCP” treatment that blocked the natural ethylene production, keeping apples fresh and crisp. Surviving the crisis, with a revived hope based on making consumers thrilled to eat another apple, a new era of reinvestment began. The process of replanting orchards to high density 1000 trees/acre trellis systems with drip irrigation, protected by 8ft high deer fences, became the focus.
The 5th generation began fulltime farming in 2010 when Jenny returned home after Dartmouth College and three years as a loan officer with Farm Credit. Initially she was lead financial controller of the packinghouse expansion and startup operator of the new Greefa packing lines. In 2014 she married neighbor beef farmer & operator of Cornwall Coal, Steve Kohn. Jenny currently handles payroll and all financial records, as well as utilizing her Spanish daily helping to supervise orchard operations.
Brother Joel Crist graduated Cornell, then worked with Daymon Worldwide International, a food marketing company for 4 years, first embedded in retail chains, and then bringing a private label line of products to market. In 2013 Joel & Molly Clauhs exchanged vows in the orchard. Molly is an entrepreneur in group travel services, co-owner of Onward Travel. After moving home in 2015, Joel began managing daily packinghouse operations, while planning next steps in packinghouse automation for efficiency and labor savings.
Prior to, and after graduating from Cornell as an engineer, brother Jedidiah “Jedd” has worked on special projects primarily involving information systems & technology. From remote cameras, to electronic controls for storages and drip irrigation systems, to most recently developing a system to scan harvested bins for production and payroll data.
Today, Crist Bros. is vertically integrated from growing to storage to packing/shipping. Current operations include 600 acres of orchards, producing approximately 500,000 bushel per year. Normal operations include water & environmental conservation measures, wind machines for frost prevention, food safety audits and sanitation measures to prevent food borne illnesses. Increased mechanization such as platforms for tree work and harvest are now being utilized. Approximately 80 people are employed year round, with increasing numbers during the growing season – peaking at about 150 employees during the harvest season. The employees are considered the most valuable asset of the business. Participation in the foreign visa H2A program began again in 2016. Variety selection over the last 15 years has been on planting premium varieties like Honeycrisp, Gala, Fuji, Pink Lady, and most recently SnapDragon and RubyFrost. Jeff Crist is a founding member of CrunchTime Apple Growers which purchased the intellectual property rights of these two newest varieties from Cornell University’s breeding program.
Increased production and special requirements of new varieties dictated the addition of a state of the art storage facility in 2013. It was designed by Storage Control Systems, utilizing an environmentally friendly refrigeration technology with only a fraction of the Freon previously required. The storage design emphasizes energy savings, primarily from computerized sequencing of modular refrigeration units. Design also allows precise remote digital monitoring of storage conditions to maintain fruit freshness.
The packing facility was expanded by 25,000 sq ft in 2010 with new equipment purchased from Greefa (Holland) and N.M.Bartlett (Canada). The new sizers utilize automated color, internal and external defect sorting. Bin and tray fillers plus a 2013 Durand Wayland bag line allow quick response to market demand. Fruit is marketed mainly through two brokers, New York Apple Sales and JP Sullivan.
In 2015 the 60 acre former Baisley farm was sold to Angry Orchard. Crist Bros continues to grow the apples at that location in an interesting partnership. The huge growth of hard cider has presented a new market opportunity for apple growers. Crist Bros has ordered trees and plans to be growing dedicated new hard cider varieties very soon.
The Lord willing, the Crist family will continue for years to come, to incorporate new advances and technology into the art and love of growing superb apples.