“I’m a farmer. I’ve been a farmer for quite a few years. I take great pride in it, and I really can’t picture myself doing anything else.” Rich Erdle
Rich has grown grapes here on the shore of Lake Erie for decades. A few years back, he took on a partner: his son Colin. Colin tried working as a music teacher for a while, but his passion for farming brought him back. He still sings while he works in the vineyards, though.
“I couldn’t tell you of a Welch’s farm that’s not a small, family-owned farm. There’s no giant, 10,000-acre farm. We don’t do it that way.” Colin Erdle
To Colin, Welch’s co-op ownership makes all the difference. For one thing, the farmers who own Welch’s insist on making 100% grape juice with no added sugar, colors or flavors. For another, the farmers help each other out. Colin compares it to an extended family, “a bunch of uncles and aunts and cousins that look out for you.”
“When the grapes are perfect, we pick them, squeeze them, and bring them to you.” Colin Erdle
It’s that simple, says Colin. The few short weeks of the Concord grape harvest are a flurry of activity for the Erdles and fellow farmer-owners. They pick rain or shine, all hours of the day. When a truck is full of grapes, it heads down the road to be fresh-pressed. For Welch’s, the grapes must go from farm to press in eight hours or less. Usually it’s much faster, if Rich has his way.