Milburn Orchards: A family tradition in Cecil County
Oct 18, 2016 01:08PM
● By Steven Hoffman
Family is a very important at Milburn Orchards. During Fall Festival Weekends that take place from mid-September through the end of October, hundreds of families pick their own apples, raspberries, or grapes. They enjoy lunch with an enjoyable view of the orchard. They buy fresh fruits and vegetables at the farm market. Children spend pleasant hours roaming in the corn maze or visiting with the “barnyard buddies,” like goats and chickens, that live on the sprawling 400-acre property on Appleton Road in Elkton.
Through the years, Milburn Orchards has evolved into something more than a family farm—even though agriculture remains at the very heart of what Milburn Orchards is. Today, Milburn Orchards is a leader in agri-tourism, and a destination for thousands of people from Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and beyond who are looking for a unique farm experience.
“There are so many activities for families. A family could spend a whole day here,” explained Melinda Milburn Palmeri. She loves the fact that families share good times and make so many special memories at Milburn Orchards. As a member of the fourth generation of her family to run the farm, Melinda's roots on this land run deep.
“I've been here all of my life, really,” she explained during an interview in late September. “It's a farm, so there's a lot of work involved.”
Numerous members of the Milburn family help out in ways big and small. Melinda manages the farm with her siblings, David Milburn and Jay Milburn, and their cousin, Nathan Milburn. But there is always someone in the family—a wife, a son, a cousin—who steps in to run the cash register or to direct traffic to the parking areas during busy times.
The beginnings of Milburn Orchards can be traced back to Esma and Mary Milburn, who settled on the Elkton property in 1902. Esma and Mary were already farmers, and had previously run a farm in Chesapeake City. They found the soils of Cecil County to be rich, and they were able to make a living off the land.
There are strong connections that link each generation of the Milburn family to the land.
“The house I live in is the house that he built,” Melinda explained, referring to her great-grandfather, Esma.
Melinda said that, growing up on a family farm, which was being run primarily by her father, John, and her uncle, Evan, at that time, she didn’t realize how special an opportunity it was. But then she went away to college, and quickly discovered what a unique environment a family farm offers. Melinda said that her own children are reaching the age where they really appreciate the unique qualities that a life on a farm offers. Not everyone gets to grow up in a place where the family works together for the common good, and where the freshest fruits and vegetables are readily available.
Each crop demands its own special care and will be ready for harvest at its own time. The fresh fruits and vegetables grown at Milburn Orchards include peaches, cherries, apples, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, grapes, nectarines, plums, pumpkins, and gourds.
Farm-to-table offerings and locally grown produce have become extremely popular during the last decade or so as consumers realize that fresh fruits and vegetables are important ingredients to a healthy diet.
“I'm so glad that people are seeing that there's no comparison to locally grown fruits and vegetables when it comes to taste and nutrients,” Melinda explained. “There is nothing like when your food is fresh. And you're also supporting a local farmer.”
In addition to the fresh fruits and vegetables, the farm market at Milburn Orchards offers a line of country jams and jellies, local honey, and delicious local cheeses. The hot apple cider donuts are a favorite for many guests.
Melinda explained that they started offering hayrides and face-painting as a way to attract more visitors to the farm, and the added attractions quickly became popular.
“We brought in the agri-tourism part of the business,” Melinda explained. The hayrides during harvest season were so popular that they had to add another hay wagon the second year, and then another and another. With each passing year, the Milburns added new attractions so that families could come back time after time.
“We realized that people were really wanting this kind of experience,” Melinda explained.
One of the most important functions of Milburn Orchards is offering people the chance to step on to a working farm. It’s an opportunity for youngsters to learn where the food that ends up on their dinner table comes from.
“I want every kid to be able to go out and pick their own fruit,” Melinda said, explaining that the U Pick adventures are very popular with families. “That’s such a great experience. There are families who come out year after year to do this.”
Milburn Orchards added an East Egg hunt that has been growing in popularity each year. They also offer harvest breakfasts that feature the particular crops that are just coming to harvest.
One important new initiative that visitors probably aren't aware of is Milburn Orchards' efforts to become more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly. Melinda explained that half the farm's electrical needs are now provided by solar power, and plans are in place to eventually generate enough solar power to meet all the farm's electrical needs. Because of Milburn Orchards' commitment to the environment and the community, as well as the rich history of the family business, Milburn Orchards was named as the 2015 Cecil County Business of the Year, and was inducted into the Cecil County Business Hall of Fame that same year.
“That was pretty neat,” Melinda explained.
Milburn Orchards is more than 110 years old, but this family business has as much family involved as it ever has. Melinda explained that Jay's wife, Ilene, and David's wife, Sara, are both very involved, especially during the busy season.
“We have nieces and nephews who help. There's a lot of family and a lot of our friends who help out. There's really no way that we could ever do it without them.”
Milburn Orchards is open to the public seven months a year—July through December. During the week, many different group tours and school tours take place. Schools in Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania participate in the tours. During weekends in the fall, thousands of visitors flock to Milburn Orchards for a fun outing.
“The fall is a special time here,” Melinda explained. “Our number-one crop has always been the apples, and that’s the harvest time for them. There are a lot of other crops in the fall. It makes our farm very pretty with all the colors.”
The family members entrusted with the operations of the farm will continue to find new things to attract people to Milburn Orchards.