Planting the seeds: Growing up on the farm may bloom into a built-in career

Sallie Bruguiere started working on her family's farm, Dickie Brothers Orchard, when she was 7. Now 16, she helps with the retail work. Photo: Christian Hommel Sallie Bruguiere started working on her family’s farm, Dickie Brothers Orchard, when she was 7. Now 16, she helps with the retail work. Photo: Christian Hommel

“I don’t like getting dirty.” Many 16-year-old girls can relate to Sallie Bruguiere’s opinion. But most girls aren’t the daughter of a seventh-generation farmer. A junior at Nelson County High School, Sallie has helped her family farm the Dickie Brothers Orchard since she was 7. She started by checking apples, counting how many bins of produce were filled, and directing customers around the orchard to find the best fruit. Now she helps with mostly retail work, making change and helping at the farmer’s markets.

Farming is in her blood. The Dickie Brothers Orchard has been in her family since 1750, and her father, John, grew up farming it with his brother. Kid or not, it was hard then and it’s hard now.

“You were strong and you sure ate your dinner every night,” John said. “From the time I was old enough to pick up a scythe, I was mowing under the apple trees.”

When he was growing up, John’s family lived off the land. “You have to like the outdoors,” he said, when you’re working outside 365 days a year. But things are a bit easier for the current generation. With more mechanization, farm life for his children has changed significantly.

“We grow smaller trees, and they’re more accessible to work and maintain. But they’re still pruned and harvested by hand.” Planting? That’s done by hand, too, as Sallie knows all too well. While many of her friends were working more traditional part-time jobs, she and her brothers (Alex, 15, and Michael, 14) recently planted 500 trees on the orchard. Sallie wasn’t thrilled about it, but she took it in stride.

“We had pink in our cheeks. At least the weather was good,” she said.

The weather dictates a lot of the work Sallie and her family do in any given season at the orchard. In late spring, she spends time driving the four-wheeler, checking on the crops. Summer is more retail-related, helping customers with sales and educating them on the different kinds of fruit. When things slow down in the fall, Sallie and her brothers help more at home and assist their grandparents, the previous orchard owners, with chores at their house.

John worked at the orchard through high school but left after graduation to pursue a business degree at James Madison University. He worked in the banking and insurance industries for many years, but eventually came back to run the orchard with his brother. “My father let me make my own choice, and I came back,” John said. “I don’t have a 401(k), or health insurance or pensions. But I tell people we have a great view from the office.”

As it has for years, Dickie Brother’s offers apples, blackberries, plums, peaches, nectarines, and pumpkins. Whatever’s in season is available seven days a week to the “pick-your-own” crowd, and the orchard draws tourists and locals alike who want to enjoy the quality fruits and beautiful vistas.

That’s the part of her work that Sallie truly enjoys—the customer interaction. Whether she’s telling a customer how to pick the perfect apple, or which variety is best for cooking, she really likes talking to people. That, and hard-earned lunch breaks for fried chicken at her favorite spot, Mac’s Country Store.

John said the work he did growing up at the orchard made him who he is today, and his children have learned many of the same lessons.

“The hard work is beneficial for anybody. Having to put forth your own efforts and see the fruits of your labor come to fruition is a huge bonus.” He said he’ll encourage his children to get an education, but the farm’ll “be there one day if they want it.”

And it sounds like Sallie, for one, just might. Asked about the future, she said she wants to follow her father’s lead, going to college for a business degree, but also plans to come back to help run the orchard one day…just like her dad.

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