Bruce Salinger '72 - Salinger’s Orchard

By Keith Davis

In 1981, nine years after Bruce Salinger ’72 earned his business degree from IC, Suburbia Today ran a feature on the Putnam County, New York, orchard, then owned by Bruce’s father. “Since World War II,” said the article,“high taxes and land values have swept farmers from the scene. Whether [family farms] will be a part of the future is uncertain. Added Salinger, ‘A lot of money comes through each year, but there isn’t a lot staying in my pocket.’” In 2012, Salinger chalks his statement up to “impetuous youth.”

“I can’t recall my mindset in the 1980s, but the fellow apple growers I know in New York, the good ones, are doing well. From case studies at IC, I discovered one thing: adaptability. Businesses that don’t change don’t make it.”

The Salinger operation didn’t always grow fruit. Bruce’s grandfather — a New York City native and Cornell poultry science major — bought the acreage in 1905 and started a chicken farm. Some 30 years later, Bruce’s father converted it into an orchard, growing pears, peaches, and nectarines, but mostly apples. After growing up on the farm, Bruce studied business at IC.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do with my degree, but I’d always enjoyed the family farm, so I thought I’d go back for a few years and then move on,” he said.

Going back, though, reminded him of his attachment to the homestead.

“I never had to wonder what my father did for a living, like a lot of my high school classmates had. I was there with him, helping with the spring apple blossom sprays and the late summer pickings. That connection meant a lot.”

So did the business end of things.

“I saw potential for taking the operation to the next level. My father was ready to retire, and my brother and sister weren’t interested in farming. I saw a chance to be my own boss at something I really enjoyed, so I did it.”

Salinger’s sister is a 40-year resident of New Zealand; his brother is a retired high school teacher. Though they each own a third of the land, they’ve given Salinger and his wife, Maureen, ownership of the business, which, under their efforts, has thrived.

“We’ve developed a successful retail farm market that covers three generations of customers,” Salinger said. “Rarely does a day go by when someone doesn’t say, ‘My father used to drive me here, and now I’m bringing my kids.’”

The way to profitability is staying open year-round. Critical to that effort was installing a specially constructed cold storage system that controls temperature and humidity levels to the point where apples remain fresh months after being picked. The business also has a bakery, started from scratch by Maureen, who left her management position at UPS to spend more time raising the Salingers’s two daughters.

Salinger is also a commercial real estate agent and owns a commercial real estate management company. “Work hard. Play hard,” he said, and he backs it up with references to sailing his boat and spending time with his family at their house on Cape Cod. The common denominator, though, is the apple orchard.

“My daughters grew up on the farm and, like me, benefited from being involved in their parents’ work,” Salinger said. “But they’ve experienced the world differently than I did and won’t be taking over the business. The farm having a Salinger name on it will probably end with my generation.”

If there’s no buyer for the business, the land could be used as a warehouse site, a horse farm, or even a cemetery. Whatever happens, Salinger doesn’t regret spending the last 40 years the way he did.

“My backyard is a giant garden filled with thousands of apple trees. The day-to-day of running a business goes away when I walk through the orchard and see all that beautiful fruit.”