B.W. Bishop & Sons, Inc. is a family-owned and operated farm corporation, doing business as Bishop’s Orchards. The farm was started in 1871 by Walter Goodrich Bishop who engaged in general farming including dairy, vegetables and ice. His son, Burton Walter Bishop, joined him and expanded the business. In 1909, they set out the first commercial orchard. Burton’s sons, Arthur F. and Charles R., joined with their father in 1918 and continued to set out more orchards on land purchased in 1920 and 1926.
In 1957, the business was incorporated and formally named after Burton, who died in 1942. At the time the business was incorporated, Albert and Gene (Charles E.) came into the business with their fathers following college. In the 1960’s, crops grown included apples, peaches, pears, plums, nectarines, strawberries, lettuce, cabbage, beans and other vegetables. Marketing was done through the seasonal retail market (approximately 500 square ft.) at the present location in Guilford and a large volume to the wholesale market.
The 1970’s brought even more change to the farm. The fifth generation was now in high school and actively involved in work on the farm. The retail farm market was expanded to be open year round, (occupying about 1500 square feet). Produce was purchased from other farms and the wholesale market to supplement our own crops and to provide a full line of quality farm products all year. PICK YOUR OWN (PYO) was expanded from strawberries to apples, blueberries and other crops as the farm diversified to become more economically stable and to support the growing demand for local fruit and consumer’s desire to pick their own. In April 1974, the farm expanded by purchasing Tollgate Orchards on Rt. 17 in Northford, consisting of 35 acres, including a cold storage and seasonal farm market. This is now known as Bishop’s Orchards Northford Farm.
In 1975, the farm and family was awarded the Century Farm Award by Governor Ella Grasso and the Connecticut Board of Agriculture honoring its 104th year of operation under the same family ownership.
In 1977, Albert’s son, Keith, joined the business as Retail Farm Market Manager after graduation from Cornell with a BS in Farm Business Management. In 1978, Gene’s son, Jonathan, graduated from Delaware Valley College with a BS in Horticulture and was employed as Orchard Manager. Albert’s son, Craig, graduated from Cornell with a BS in Pomology and returned to be Small Fruits and Vegetable Manager. Craig left the farm in 1986 to pursue other interests. Albert’s son, David, graduated from Cornell in 1985 with a BS in Farm Business Management, worked for Farm Credit Banks as a loan officer until May 1989, and then was hired as Small Fruits and Vegetable Manager from 1989-91 by this company. He returned to Farm Credit in January 1992. Currently he is a Branch Manager & Vice President at First Pioneer Farm Credit in Bedford, NH. Albert’s daughter, Diane, graduated from North Carolina State University in 1981 with a BS in Agricultural Education. She joined the business in 1997 as Bakery Manager and left in 2010 to pursue other interests.
A major addition to the main farm market and cold storage on Rt. 1 was finished in September of 1978. This allowed the more efficient utilization of space and movement of products, reorganized the cider mill, and moved the apple grading and packing area into the new addition. This all then enabled the retail farm market to be expanded to space other operations previously occupied. The market now covered 2,500 square feet.
Other changes were constantly occurring as the 5th Generation became more involved and the farm needed to keep pace with technology and economics. Orchard renovation and planting of new trees and varieties have been done every year. New crops have been introduced and/or expanded, such as raspberries and early apples to extend the seasons when our own crops are ready. More diverse operations allow us to make better use of labor and provide an economic safety net.
Natural disaster has hit the farm on many occasions, including hurricanes, hail, late frosts, floods, drought, windstorms, animal damage, insects, diseases, and others which have had varying economic impact. We recognize these potentials and our inability to control many of them, but must accept them as the risks of devoting our livelihood to agriculture. We try to minimize these by using the best management techniques, technology, and educational resources we have available. Nevertheless, at times, we have had partial and even entire crops lost due to one or more of the above problems. One reason for our success is the diversity of our crops, (“don’t put all your eggs in one basket”), so even if several don’t do well, hopefully, others will do well enough to carry us through.
All of the Bishop’s have been very involved in organizations and activities off the farm, including Town Boards and Commissions, Judge of Probate, church deacons, presidents and officers of clubs and agricultural organizations. Several top awards have also been bestowed upon family members, including National FFA, Community Service, Outstanding Young Farmer, Pomological Society Award of Distinction, Public Speaking, and Gubernatorial and Presidential appointments.
Current management of the farm is split between Keith and Jonathan as Co-CEO’s and Team Managers are responsible for our daily operations. The operation has from 60 to a seasonal high closer to 175 employees during the harvest season.
In 1988, a 10,000 bushel CA (Controlled Atmosphere) apple storage addition was built and parking areas improved. In 1989, a 3,800 square-foot addition and remodeling was completed in August that brought our Farm Market to 5,600 square feet of sales area, with a covered porch and a larger parking area.
After three years of planning, in 2005, Bishop’s Orchards broke ground for our 11th addition and renovation that added a total of 7,000 square feet to the existing building with 2,000 square feet dedicated directly to the retail market sales area. The construction started in late February 2005 and the last phase was completed in August 2006. The addition eased the shortage of space in many different areas of our growing company.
The addition expanded bakery, retail, refrigeration, freezer and office space. Over the past decade, Bishop’s has increased product lines and selections to better serve our customers. With the new health and diet trends, the additional space has allowed Bishop’s to provide for and address these demands. The changes have not altered the emphasis on the products we grow. We are here, because of our roots and the crops we grow. Our ability to keep 300 acres in farming, in Connecticut, is because of our ability to market directly to the consumer.
Bishop’s was pleased to have several local businesses execute this expansion. The architects who took our specifications and ideas and designed the building are from John A. Matthews A.I.A. Architecture and Planning in Madison, CT. The Munger Construction Company in Branford, CT was the general contractor, with Apuzzo Electric Inc. and James P. Marino Jr. Co. Inc. as major subcontractors.
Bishop’s Orchards Winery was started in November 2005 after receiving state and federal approvals. The winery uses fruits grown on our farm to produce apple, peach, pear, strawberry, blueberry, and raspberry wines, as well as combination blends of those fruits. Over 15 fruit wines are now available, produced on site by Winemaker Keith Bishop. At the present time we have no grape production; however we partner with Hopkins Vineyard, Jones Family Farm Winery and others to provide a well rounded selection of fine Connecticut red and white wines.
In 2007, Keith’s daughter, Sarah Bishop DellaVentura, was hired as Marketing Director. She was the first of the 6th generation to join the family business and one of 11 members of the 6th generation in the family tree. She was instrumental in establishing the Shoreline Wine Festival, now an annual event.
In early 2009, additional interior changes were made to include a 25-foot wine bar and adjacent wine displays, improve flow through the market, and provide additional prepared foods space.
A CSA “Community Supported Agriculture” program was born in 2011 to provide weekly shares of our farm’s fruits and vegetables to those who joined as members. The program provides a closer touch with those who join to share the bounty and learn more about our farm production.
The year 2011 marked our 140th year since the farm was started in 1871. The Bishop families have their roots in Guilford since the founding of the town by relatives from England in 1639. Our families continue to grow and faces of the seventh generation can now be seen “helping” and learning with their parents and grandparents. The families hope to be able to continue to maintain an economically-viable farm for many, many years to come to provide our friends and neighbors with quality, fresh food at a reasonable price.