Local family goes nuts this time of year

Local family goes nuts this time of year

For the Yoders — Paul, his wife Colleen and their children — farming is truly a family affair. On their 129-acre farm near Apple Creek, the Yoder family specializes in dairy cattle, beef and pork with a few chickens and turkeys added into the mix. They run a combined 70 cattle, split between beef and dairy. Poultry is sold off the farm over the summer with turkeys ready for Thanksgiving.

The main thing the Yoder family is known for, however, is their walnut business, a business that has kept them busy since 1994. The Yoders are a big family with 13 children, four of whom help with the walnut hulling.

Each autumn as the walnuts start to fall, the Yoders go into overdrive, buying walnuts from local residents and even people that have traveled from far away to sell their walnuts.

“We have gotten people from as far away as West Virginia and Pennsylvania,” Colleen Yoder said. “Up until there was a buyer in Lewisville, we were the furthest east.”

For the Yoders, walnut season lasts about six weeks. Each Monday through Saturday during daylight hours, members of the community bring in walnuts to sell to the Yoders.

Walnuts bring 15 cents per pound, and for people bringing them in, the money is paid out that day in cash. Additionally if people want to keep their walnuts but save themselves the mess and work of hulling them by hand, the Yoders can hull nuts at the cost of five cents per pound.

There is no special process to sell walnuts to the Yoders. Simply pick them up and bring them to the farm.

“I tell people I’ve seen nuts in just about any container you can imagine,” Paul Yoder said, “even loose in a hatchback once. We don’t care how you get them here: grocery bags, feed bags, any way you can bring them.”

For those wondering whether walnut gathering is worthwhile, the Yoders say one 5-gallon bucket holds about eight to 10 pounds of walnuts.

The condition of the walnuts doesn’t matter either. They can be black or green. If there are worms in the hulls, it's so much the better to the Yoders. The hulls, once removed, are given to the Yoders’ free-range chickens, who delight in picking through them and eating whatever worms they find.

Once hulled and bagged, the nuts the Yoders collect are shipped to Hammons Products, a company out of Missouri that processes walnuts. No part of the nut goes to waste. Hulls go to the chickens, the nuts are sold as a delicacy and even the shells are saved, ground and turned into pumice that goes in a variety of products from facial cleansers to sandblasting and abrasive mixes.

While walnuts are a sideline business for the Yoder family, it is one that keeps them busy. “In an average year we collect somewhere between 160,000 and 200,000 pounds. On a bumper crop, our best was 280,000 pounds or 140 tons,” Paul Yoder said.

“That kept us hopping that year,” Colleen Yoder said.

Of course some years just aren’t great years for walnuts. Usually the season depends largely on the weather from the prior spring and summer. Less rain or an early spring frost that nips the walnut buds make the harvest likely to turn out smaller.

“The least we ever did was 4 tons,” Paul Yoder said. “That wasn’t even our first year. That was within the last 10 years. On a good year like this year, we’ll probably have many, many days where we do more than that in one day.”

Walnuts are a good sideline income for the Yoders, but more than that, the entire family agrees walnut hulling is much more than just the money. It is a family tradition, one that brings the parents and children together along with all of the rest of the surrounding community.

“We have 13 children, but there are only four who run the huller,” Colleen Yoder said. “They have to be old enough to actually know what they are doing. Our 6-year-old likes to pick them up, but he doesn’t actually do the hulling. It’s something the children look forward to every year, and they’re always really glad when it’s over. It’s kind of like haymaking season. Our adult children come back and help with this too. It makes good memories for them.”

“You look forward to it, but you look forward to the end of it too,” Paul Yoder said.

And then there is the sense of togetherness with the community. Each year dozens upon dozens of people from the area visit, some only once or twice per season, others coming in every single day to sell walnuts they’ve gathered.

“You get these school kids picking up nuts,” Paul Yoder said. “We’ve had them come in. They’ve got a wheelbarrow or a little pony cart. It’s so cute to watch them, and then there they go with their $10 or $15.”

The more one talks to the Yoders about the experiences they’ve shared with members of the community, the more one comes to see that the walnuts really are more about the tradition than the money. Each year the family looks forward to both the regular customers and those who have never sold walnuts before. The Yoders are a warm and welcoming group, standing and chatting with patrons, telling the occasional walnut joke as they feed the nuts into the huller. Sometimes the stories are particularly heartwarming.

“Back in 2008,” Paul Yoder said, “there was a lady who had lost her job. She had a 10-year-old son, lived in Fredericksburg. She told me that she made over $400 that month bringing walnuts here, and it was just what she needed to get by. She was doing interviews, but between interviews she could pick up walnuts. She just went around, picked up walnuts. A lot of people don’t want them, will just about pay you to pick them up out of their yards. It’s really cool like that. Sometimes we see young people: youth projects and fundraisers.”

This year walnut season is just getting started for the Yoders, Oct. 2 being the first day they were open to the community. Anyone interested in selling walnuts can either get in touch with the Yoder family by calling 330-466-8917 or simply stop in.

The Yoders’ farm is near Apple Creek at 8561 Bear Hollow Road.

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