Ottanola Farms – Lamb Family

The following article was published in 2004 in the Hendersonville Times-News

By Jennie Jones Giles
Three generations of the Lamb family have grown apples in Dana. Now Dale Lamb and his wife, Geraldine, are continuing the tradition by turning to the fresh market and direct sales.
“The growers wouldn’t be in business anymore if they did not have direct market,” Geraldine said.
Dale’s father, Ronald, and grandfather, Ray, had a packing house for 25 to 30 years, but when the prices they received for their apples remained low as the costs rose, they quit the apple packing business.
“I wanted to keep it going because the family had been doing it for so long,” Dale said. “I had to get a job on the side to support my apple habit.”
During the off-season, he lays ceramic tile.
“Things got so tight, it was harder for packing houses to make money,” he said. “The price hasn’t increased more than $1 or $2 a bushel in 30 years.”
But the price of growing the apples has probably tripled, Dale said.
“We are trying to get more apples off less acres, a higher production effort to offset the cost,” he said.
The Lambs, who manage and co-own Ottanola Farms, turned to direct sales and wholesale for their apples, selling by the bin or bushel box. The smallest apples go for processing.
They sell their apples to direct market retail outlets in Henderson County. The roadside and fruit stands then sell the apples to the consumers.
Instead of a modern grading machine, the Lambs are using an older grader. There is no bath of water and waxing for these apples.
Someone places the bin of apples on a lifter, which moves up and pours the box onto the old-fashioned grader. The chain is made so apples under 2 1/2 inches fall out into a bin. These apples go for juice.
The rest of the apples proceed on the belt through a brusher and washer, and then heat lamps dry the apples as fans blow on them. The apples continue on the belt to the main bin.
Dale, his wife and two sons, Justin and Rayce, then pack the apples into bushel boxes, making certain no bad apples go into the boxes.
As the apple harvest season enters its peak, the Lambs are working six days a week, from about 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. They do this for about eight to 10 weeks.
“We are the labor, and our two sons.” Dale said. “Sometimes a neighbor comes by when he has time off, just for the fun of it.”
They grow about 16 to 17 varieties on 70 acres.
“Gala is probably the best seller,” Dale said. “Then it’s probably Mutsu, Fuji and Jonagold. We still get people asking for Staymens. It keeps well and some people like the tart taste.
“Henderson County still grows the best tasting Red Delicious in the country,” Dale said. “But they don’t look like the Washington state Red Delicious. People are buying for looks, not taste. They want a red apple, shaped the way Washington state apples are shaped.”
The Lambs have about 50 Red Delicious trees now. Fifteen years ago they had 32 acres of trees, with about 80 percent of them Red Delicious.
“We had 4,000 to 5,000 trees. Now we are down to 50,” Dale said.
The Rome is a good processing apple, he said.
“They are easy to grow and you get a lot of apples off the tree. But there is no profit there and the market is real tight.”
Dale pushed up most of his Rome trees.
Five to six years ago, about 80 percent of his trees produced processing apples, 15 percent fresh apples and 5 percent apples for juice. Now 90 percent of his apples are fresh apples for direct sale, 5 percent processing and 5 percent juice.
It takes several years to convert an orchard to new trends and new varieties, he said. It takes three years for a dwarf-size tree to produce apples, five years for a semi-dwarf tree and seven years for a standard apple tree.
“It’s a long-term investment,” he said.