(Photo by Christine Terpening)
Retirement looks different for everyone, but for one local green thumb, it’s getting his hands dirty and watching what sprouts from the ground that makes life ‘finer than frog hair’ (quote credit–Festus from Gunsmoke).
Greg and Sallie Stambaugh are owners of Bismark Orchard & Gardens in the scenic countryside north of Vermontville. Greg is mostly retired as a licensed building contractor. The couple had plans to open their new business next year, but the fruits of Earth produced in a grand way, so the Stambaughs rolled with the overflow and opened this year.
A five acre spread hosts plenty of young, but fruitful trees. Bismark Orchard & Garden has cherry trees (both tart and sweet), as well as apricot, plums, nectarines and pear trees. Fifty peach trees grace the land as well as 26 varieties of apples. The garden is producing its fair share of delectables; among them are a large tomato variety including Roma, San Marzano, Brandy Wine Yellow and Big Boy. Pumpkins, squash (butternut and winter) and other gourds fill the farm stand as do English Walnuts.
Make your day the berries and stop by for blackberries that are almost ready. Raspberries of the black, red (ever bearing) and yellow varieties are plentiful.
No farmstand is complete without green beans, purple beans, cucumbers, and peppers (hot and bell). Potatoes of the Pontiac Red, Yukon Gold and Adirondack Blue variety are plentiful. “We’ve got garden potatoes running out our ears,” laughed Stambaugh.
Perhaps the most unique produce grown on the farm is the garlic crop. “That was my wife’s idea and it was a good one,” boasted Stambaugh. Garlic bulbs grow from the ground with tall stalks above ground and long roots below. Sallie plants them in late summer and the garlic grows all winter and is harvested in mid July. When pulled from the ground the garlic bulb is snipped from its root and stem and then dried for at least two weeks before it’s ready to sell. Garlic has been so popular with patrons that Sallie just planted next year’s harvest to triple the size.
Bismark, itself, is all but lost to history with remnants of the past, most notably the Bismark Schoolhouse that serves as a community center where neighbors still gather for potlucks. “When I was a little boy, my grandparents would bring me down to the schoolhouse and they would have the Bismark Strawberry Festival. All the neighbors would pool their strawberries and make homemade ice cream and for a donation you could go to the Strawberry Festival,” Stambaugh recalled with a smile. When the opportunity to buy his home on Bismark Road was made available twelve years ago it felt like he was coming back to a place where fond childhood memories still existed.
The Stambaughs raised their family on the love of growing fresh produce. Their youngest daughter, Lyndsie, has a hand in the business, also. Not only does she help with the farmwork when able, she is instrumental in spreading the word through social media which her dad gives her the utmost credit for. “It’s been comforting to be around family,” Lyndsie said, “and it’s been very fun to bring my dog to help.”
The Stambaughs have plans to add a permanent building for the sale of goods and produce. A fully licensed commercial kitchen is in the works so that Sallie’s jams and goodies will be available at a greater quantity.
Folks often question Stambaugh’s retirement choices, after all, this endeavor is tiring work to which his response is, “I love Gunsmoke, but I’ve seen all the episodes. I need something else to do.”
Be sure to follow Bismark Orchard & Gardens on Facebook to see what’s fresh and happening. News regarding Christmas trees will be posted soon. You can also contact Greg at (231)709-3626 or Lyndsie at (231)218-2591. Bismark Orchard & Gardens is located at 9879 Bismark Hwy, in Vermontville. Contact them for their open hours.