Back in 1952, when Dennis Ouellette was 6 years old, his parents, Dennis T. Ouellette and Estelle had a chicken and pig operation along with acres and acres of fruit trees in Sterling that took in the cool moist breezes from nearby Lake Ontario. Dennis remembers as a young boy selling apples and strawberries on a roadside stand at State Route 104 and 104A. ” This Planted the Seed, ” he said. ” How About U- Pick Apples for $1.00 a bushel.” At this time, it became apparent that retail sales were more profitable than wholesaling and processing.
The Ouellette family set up retail operations in Fulton, Watertown, Ogdensburg and across the road from the current store on Rte. 104. Soon they expanded into the Regional Market in Syracuse. Later, the farm extended its sales to Long Island during the Fall and Christmas Seasons.
” The New York City Market was more profitable, ” Dennis said. It meant prepping during the week and traveling to New York City Friday after school, and returning Sunday evenings. Who ever thought that Farming would be easy!.
Dennis met June Shattell at Hannibal High School, 50 years ago. June’s teachers told her that she was nuts hanging with Dennis Ouellette. June Shattell and Dennis married in 1965, after realizing in their Sr. year at Hannibal High School, that they would become more than friends. This was the beginning of their 50 years of Marriage and Business together.
From the beginning to the present day, Dennis and June decided to offer more than just apples. They got into producing other fruits and vegetables and Christmas trees. While running a business with Dennis, June took classes at Oswego State University, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Science, and raising their two daughters.
In 1965, the old two story horse barn was converted into the present day store. Ontario Orchards not only sold its own fruit, vegetables and trees, but also brought produce from other local farmers. Two farm workers, David and George came to work on the farm on weekends and suggested to June that she use the apple drops for apple pies. This is when June began making apple pies in her own kitchen, and delivering them to Ontario Orchards. One day a deer jumped out in front of them and the pies went all through the car. This is when the Bakery at the Stand was born. Along with the Bakery, there was an expansion of the farm, farm market, cider mill and nursery. This was all a direct result from the increase of customers.
Dennis credits many of the new ideas at Ontario Orchards to his two daughters, Kathy and Laurie and their employees. They have a lot of new energy and ideas. With this in mind, what was the horse barn, has become one of North America’s most complete, family-owned farms and farm market in the country.
The Ouellette’s have on the Farm in Sterling, 30 acres of sweet corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, squash, pumpkins, gourds and June’s raspberries. They also have 30 acres of Christmas trees, and 90 acres of apples.
They have added a Fall Jamboree and U-Pick apples and pumpkin operations. This not only helped with profits, but brought people out to the Farm so they could see the whole operation and learn about where the food comes from. They have also encouraged Agri-Tourism and school trips to help educate people in our community.
While most farm markets are open only in the summer and fall when there crops are harvested, Ontario Orchards is open everyday but Christmas. This was unheard of until 10 years ago, when they decided to stay open all winter. They were welcomed with the customer support year around, and it worked. They offered enough variety of products for customers and their everyday needs..
Ontario Orchards also specializes in showcasing products made and grown in NY that they ship year round. Local products such as, Canales sauces, Rudy’s, Honey, Maple Syrup, Hinerwadel salt potatoes, Dinosaur Barbeque sauces, Bucks seasonings, Hofmann hotdogs and coneys, Grandma Brown’s baked beans, Crogan Bologna, NY cheeses and much more.
The store is open 7 days a week, 7am-6pm, Winter, 7am – 7pm, Spring, and 7am – 9pm, Summer and Fall.
In addition to expanding our hours, Dennis says he works ” Outside the Box, ” on how to improve the business and bring in more customers. Customer service, quality and a smile our on the their top list of things to do at Ontario Orchards.
We can’t make a living off the person who might drive up from Syracuse once a year to visit Ontario Orchards. We need to have repeat customers throughout the year, and remind them we have more than just apples and cider.
Advertising and promotions at specific times of the year has extended the customer base out 100 miles plus. Each season is a whole new energized season, and each time you have a new season, you come up with new ideas and new products.
Product Sampling is forecasted in the future at Ontario Orchards. They like to offer NY products to their customers, and what better way to introduce them than by samples. They began a couple of years with their NY cheeses, and now they have customers hooked. They might even have some cooking Demo’s to show people how to prepare things we sell.
For example, parsnips are a root vegetable that many people think of as a white carrot. People look at them at the store, sometimes pick them up, but put them back because they aren’t sure what to do with them. There will be recipes posted throughout the store and on the website on how to use seasonal veggies and fruits, they would like to educate and share with their customers on how good we really have it with our local produce.
The Ouellette’s plan to improve the facilities, work on upgrading and promoting NY State Products on their website, www.ontarioorchards.com, and growing the ever popular Fall Jamboree at their farm in Sterling.
A fourth generation, Dennis and June’s grandchildren, Taylor and Nichole now are involved in the business. On that note, it looks as though Ontario Orchards will be serving its customers for a long time to come. Entrepreneurship and self employment is great, but a very difficult challenge. Fortunately, they have made it happen. Ontario Orchards wants to extend its many Thanks for everyone’s support and ideas. The three generations, Dennis and June, Kathy and Laurie, Taylor and Nichole look forward to being a part of your lives and the community.
Ontario Orchards and their friendly staff will be celebrating this achievement throughout the year of 2015! Watch for monthly specials, planting tips, food sampling, wine tasting, cider pressing, our famous candy apples and wreath making demos, along with other specials for the holidays. Don’t forget the 14th annual Fall Jamboree! Come out to Ontario Orchards and help them celebrate 50 Years of Growth!
Paraphrased from original article by Debra J. Groom!
Manager of Ontario Orchards
Daughter of Dennis and June Ouellette