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

“When we started, the Internet hardly existed,” says Breslow; Ferber first reached out to her a decade ago to help spread the word. “Linvilla had dial-up. We started with just the old-school things—writing press releases, inviting television reporters to broadcast from the farm because it was so colorful.”

As technology evolved, so did the strategy—-hence Linvilla’s 6,491-fan Facebook page (by comparison, Michael Nutter’s has fewer than 5,000), complete with scores of photos- uploaded by customers. Those snaps from happy parents are what Breslow is proudest of; they’re digital proof that the strategy is working. “We’re not promoting- festivals,” she says. “We’re promoting memories. Instead of just selling Christmas trees, we’re selling a day with your family, drinking mulled cider and eating doughnuts. With Linvilla, we don’t have to create anything that isn’t there. We just tell their story.”

THAT STORY DATES BACK to 1914, when Arthur and Lydia Linvill bought a Media dairy farm with an octagonal barn for housing cows. “Dairy farming is very hard work,” says Jean Hannemann, their granddaughter and, at 46, the youngest of the siblings currently running the farm. (There are no set plans yet for the next generation of Linvills to join the operation—-the oldest, Sue’s daughter Sarah-, is only 20.) “So my grandfather started planting fruit trees on the property. He started with apples, and they’d sell them off the porch of their house, or he’d go by horse and buggy into Swarthmore to sell them there.”

In 1927, Arthur dug a hole in the ground with a horse and scoop and filled it with water. As more and more local children came by to splash around in it, the neighbors hired a lifeguard. That makeshift pond gave way to Linvilla’s two swimming pools.

By the 1950s, Jean’s father, Paul, and his two brothers were running the farm with Arthur; Linvilla had phased out the dairy altogether. The family opened Linvilla’s Farm Market and, in the ’60s, invested in the bakery ovens that would yield Linvilla’s famous fruit pies and baked goods. Meanwhile, Jean and her three siblings—Sue, Steve and Nancy—scattered across the country for college. “We all went away,” says Jean. But in the late ’80s, after one of Paul’s brothers had moved out of state and the other had retired, Paul and his wife, Peg, began to contemplate selling the place. The kids revolted. “So we all came back. We agreed on a 10-year commitment. And we never left.”

The new generation brought new ideas. Linvilla swelled with offerings, giving customers something to pick or do practically year-round. In the ’90s, the family- put in more apples and peaches. Cut-your-own Christmas trees were planted in 1999. The ever-popular straw-bale and cornfield mazes were finished in 2000. An on-site fishing pond opened in 2004—the same year the playground was renovated. Linvilla’s first cherry crop ripened in 2006. Today, a busy fall weekend at Linvilla might draw more than 20,000 visitors; Ferber estimates it hosts more than a million people per year. And while the family won’t share dollar figures, they say pick-your-own revenues have risen by 400 percent over the past decade.