Linvilla Orchards: The Disneyland of Family Farms

Why do a million people trek to pick-your-own emporium Linvilla Orchards? Credit the bucolic setting, the delicious fruits—and one state-of-the-art Facebook strategy

“Hope there’s still some berries left,” a woman clutching two kids’ wrists says to Ferber as he passes the line for the hayride to the picking area.

“There are,” he answers without missing a beat. “You’re just going to have to work a little harder.”

FERBER HIMSELF HAS BEEN working hard at Linvilla since 1992, when he answered an ad to rent a room in one of the houses that are also part of the Linvilla compound. At the time, he was working construction and had little interest in the bustling farm down the road from his new front door. “In the fall, I couldn’t even get out of my driveway because of all the traffic,” he remembers. “I thought to myself, ‘I am never going to that place.’” Months later, he finally relented and went down to the farm’s market to buy a newspaper. Shortly after that, his construction work dried up—at which point Sue Jochum, one of the siblings in the Linvill family’s third farm generation, told him she was looking for a produce manager. “I didn’t have any experience,” Ferber says. “But it sounded better than digging a hole.”

In the two decades since, Ferber, who today helps manage the entire operation, has been at the center of Linvilla’s fascinating evolution: from simple family farm selling fruit and baked goods into sprawling, sophisticated amusement operation that sells, well, the experience of life on the simple family farm. Or, at least, the simple family farm if it had life-size cartoon characters wandering around.

As business strategies go, that shift has been astute. Even as rural life recedes into history, there remains a hunger among urbanities and suburbanites for a taste of the simple life. And these days, everyone from homesick foreigners to trend-savvy Main Line moms is craving earthy experiences. “Buy local”—a philosophy so obvious our grandparents didn’t have to articulate it—is the new mantra of the environmentally aware and health-conscious mommy elite.

And ever-expanding Linvilla is right there to serve it—capitalizing on the cultural shift by keeping pace with the Blackberry-tethered, e-mail-everything young parents who comprise a large segment of its clientele. Unlike the picking patch down the road from your house or the roadside produce stand you pass on your commute, Linvilla has a Twitter account. It has a Facebook page. The first time I spoke with Ferber on the phone, he sent me a LinkedIn invitation minutes after we hung up. In Linvilla’s Garden Center and bakery, teenage cashiers wear t-shirts emblazoned with the orchard’s website address. And of course, the farm has its own high-powered publicist—Tina Breslow, who counts among her clients several of Philadelphia’s poshest hotels and restaurants.