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

YOUR FIRST THOUGHT, as you descend into Media’s Linvilla Orchards, is that you might be at the wrong place. You turned in here looking for a berry field, but instead you seem to have ended up at the world’s first major baby-stroller dealership. There’s an avalanche of double-wide buggies rambling down the hill to the hub of the farm. There’s a bassinet traffic jam in the bakery. And near the sign that urges you to “Pick your own,” there’s row after gleaming row of high-octane, monster-wheeled carriages.

The strollers’ inhabitants are scattered across Linvilla’s sprawling 300-acre grounds, skittering among the face painters (Spiderman is indisputably the most popular makeup choice today), the pony-ride circle, and the tree-shaded lawn where a costumed tiger is settling into a chair for a photo session. “Feel free to take a picture with Tigger,” an employee says into the mic as the kids queue up, “but please don’t empty the camera.”

The berries you came for are here, too, just not where you can see them: Six tractor-pulled flatbeds shuttle pickers five minutes east to neat rows of strawberries (one of numerous crops—from peaches to pumpkins—visitors can pick at various times of the year.) Still, for the next hour, Tigger’s lap remains the hottest spot on the farm. Whoever’s inside that striped fur suit isn’t getting out of here as quickly as he thought.

I mention this to Rob Ferber, Linvilla’s senior manager, as we stomp our way toward the pick-your-own pickup zone.

“Tiger,” he quickly corrects me. “We don’t have Tigger here. We have Bouncing Tiger, and we have Backpack Girl.”

The employee definitely said “Tigger,” but it’s a safe bet Ferber didn’t hear her. He’s spent this summer Saturday—during- Linvilla’s Strawberry Festival, one of the orchard’s busiest days of the year—shuttling between the pick-your-own hub, the Garden Center, and his office in the back of the Farm Market. Many visitors in Ferber’s path seem to recognize him, even in his shades—maybe- it’s the salt-and-pepper beard. Though he seems less interested in schmoozing than in focusing intensely on the humming progress of the event, Ferber, 44, has a kind word and a hearty handshake for all of them. “How’s the picking?” he asks everyone he meets.

The parents on the other end of his handshakes look happy, but a little distracted. They’re starting to contemplate their exit strategies—the afternoon is wearing on, and the kids are in various stages of getting sick of this. Everywhere you turn, moms and dads are saying things like “Remember, this was a special treat” and “I understand that, Elijah.” More than one face-paint masterpiece has been marred by tears.

Ferber squints at the high, beating sun. “This is the time of day people start saying, ‘It’s too hot,’” he says. “Even though it’s not.”

A few days earlier, it was. A bout of unseasonably warm weather thinned out the strawberry crop, and Ferber has been in damage-control mode all week. He sent a blast to Linvilla’s e-mail list, trying to manage expectations about the amount of fruit that would be available. It doesn’t seem like many people stayed home, but they definitely read it.