Editor’s Note – Farms in Avon: Then and now, is an ongoing series about farming in Avon. Although the city has transformed from a small community that thrived on farming, into a booming suburban municipality, small farmers still remain. Some are families that have been working the land for generations. Do you have a story to tell about farming in Avon, from either the present or the past, you would like to share? Just let us know by calling 440-933-5100 or sending a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Jon Wysochanski
In the early 1800s, the Fitches came to the Avon area from Connecticut to farm, and settle a wild area. More than 200 years later. the family still farms the southeastern part of Avon along SR 83.
Richard Fitch is the sixth generation of farmers in the Fitch family, and his sons Adam, Daniel and Michael, who also work on the farm, will carry Fitch’s Farm Market into the 21st century. Richard’s father, 89-year-old Robert, still works on the farm to this day.
His wife, Rita, a retired North Ridgeville teacher, said all of their sons went to college and Adam and Daniel are full-time farmers, while Michael is an Avon teacher who farms during the summer.
This will be Richard’s 32nd year as a full-time farmer. He worked at Invacare in Elyria for eight years before he decided to call it quits and focus on farming. Rita said she was the wage earner in the household for a long time, and when their kids were young, Richard was the “stay at home dad and farmer.”
Many changes have taken place in Avon over the years, Richard said, and his family has been around to see all of them. The amount of traffic is probably the biggest change, and sometimes people don’t understand why a piece of farm equipment might be driving down the road.
However, some changes might be the kind only farmers would be aware of, he said.
“We had the last working team of horses in Avon,” he said, noting the horses were sold in the early 1970s. “We grew horseradish (and were the only ones in the state to do so), and in the spring you always dig the horseradish before Easter. There were probably three or four different growers that had a little horseradish, and during any wet year they would call my grandpa because they couldn’t get it out of the ground with a tractor. So he dug it out with horses.”
According to Richard, his father, Robert, was the last of the Fitch family to make his living as a wholesale farmer by hauling vegetables to various stands and into market in Cleveland. He would haul produce to a wholesale market on the east side of Cleveland and sell vegetables to grocers during the early morning hours.
Back then, there was no I-90, and farmers would drive down Detroit Road at 2:30 or 3 a.m., slowly making their way to Cleveland. Even before those times, Richard’s grandfather would take hay and straw to market with a team of horses, which would take a total of four days.
Rita said she remembers Richard’s father wholesaling when they were dating, and she also remembers Richard asking her if she wanted to come along for the ride.
“That was our date,” she said with a laugh. “I didn’t know what I was getting into. I was amazed. I didn’t know people got up in the middle of the night and went shopping for vegetables.”
Today the Fitches are 100 percent retail farmers that sell their produce at their market on SR 83.
Richard and Rita opened the market in the mid-1970s. They said 95 percent of everything they sell is grown on their land. They farm approximately 75 acres and grow peppers, asparagus, lettuce and corn, just to name a few.
The Fitches have been approached by businessmen who ask if they’ll grow for wholesale, but Richard said they don’t have the time or the land to compete in the wholesale business.
“We got out of the grain business and wholesale and went strictly to the consumer,” Richard said. “If they want it fresh they come to the market. If they want it really fresh they can pick it themselves out of the field.”
Both Rita and Richard said business has increased tremendously with the revived interest in locally grown foods. Every year gets better, Richard said, and customers often come to their market several times a week.
“I’ve also noticed people canning more and doing their own processing,” he said. “I can’t believe how many people make their own pickles.”
For the Fitch family it is always great seeing repeat customers come to their farm with their children. They have seen their customers’ children grow up, and their customers have watched their children grow.
“I remember one customer seeing one of my sons grown up and recalling how the first time she came out he was about 5 or 6 and riding on a tractor with me in the field,” Richard said with a laugh.
Rita and Richard have become accustomed to never having a summer vacation and to the many tasks it takes to run a farm, from the office to the market to the field. Being a farmer easily means working a 12-hour day, Richard said.
But both said farming is something they wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.
“We enjoy it,” Rita said. “It’s one of those things that we can’t wait until the market opens in the spring. We’re anxious for it to open. It’s seven-days-a-week physical hard work.”
Fitch’s Farm Market sells a variety of produce, including fruits like strawberries and blackberries. They plant hundreds of thousands of plants each year, which can be bought in the market May through November. For more information, visit www.fitchsfarmmarket.com.
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