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Virginia orchard owner pivots to flowers to avoid disaster

When life gives you lemons, they say to make lemonade. But what if life offers Asian pears instead? For Thomas Vandiver, the owner of Virginia Gold Orchards in Natural Bridge, the answer was to plant flowers.

This year, a late frost decimated nearly 70 percent of the Asian pear crop at Virginia Gold Orchards. Faced with the devastating loss, Vandiver had to swiftly pivot to find a solution to recoup the lost revenue. That solution, somewhat unexpected for a farmer, was to cultivate flowers – a crop he had never previously ventured into.

Vandiver acknowledged the risk associated with this decision, saying, “As a farmer, you manage risk. Flowers; it was theoretically good, but it was unproven.”

However, this gamble paid off. The flowers generated enough income to help bridge the financial gap caused by the loss of the pear crop. Vandiver is now planning to make flower cultivation a regular part of the orchard’s operations.

Despite the setback with Asian pears, the fruits that did manage to develop benefited from the hot, dry weather experienced this summer. These conditions led to concentrated sugars and enhanced pear growth, resulting in sweeter and juicier fruit.

Walking through his orchard, Vandiver proudly displayed the Asian pear trees, highlighting that they grow 16 different types of Asian pears, with eight of them being core producers. Some of the varieties cultivated at Virginia Gold Orchards are so unique that they cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

When it comes to pear harvesting, versatility is essential. Vandiver noted that some of the fruit may sustain insect damage, but he does not view this as a major problem.

Virginia Gold Orchards’ ability to adapt and diversify its crops in response to challenges exemplifies the resilience and ingenuity of farmers. In the face of adversity, Vandiver’s decision to plant flowers not only helped the orchard recover financially but also introduced a new dimension to its agricultural activities.

As the agricultural landscape continues to evolve, the ability to pivot and explore alternative crops and strategies becomes increasingly vital for farmers. In this case, when life handed Vandiver Asian pears, he transformed adversity into an opportunity for growth and innovation.

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