By Susan Petro
For over one hundred years, customers have been stopping at Lewis Orchards, located at the intersection of Route 28 and Peach Tree Road, to purchase their favorite fresh fruits and vegetables. Some come from as far away as New York, Pennsylvania, and Florida because they believe Lewis Orchards has the tastiest produce. Owner Linda Lewis said her customers tell her “that the peaches from Lewis Orchards are better than Georgia peaches, and they’ve never had sweet corn so good.”
Linda and her husband, Robert Lewis, are the fourth generation to operate the market that has been on the family’s 197-acre farm since 1888. Robert’s great-grandparents, Lewis and Charlotte Mainhart, were the first generation of farmers on the land. They had hay, horses, and a few cattle on the farm, and fruit trees around their home.
Lewis and Charlotte’s daughter, Lottie, married Guy Lewis, an orchard farmer from Thurmont. Guy and Lottie planted more fruit trees on the farm. Guy was one of the first people in the area with a flatbed truck, so he was able to haul their fruit, mainly peaches, to local canneries. When World War II began, Guy went off to war, and Lottie maintained the farm. She was one of the first members of the Bethesda Women’s Market.
Marshall Lewis, the youngest of Guy and Lottie’s six children, was only eighteen years old when Guy passed away. Marshall stayed on the farm to help his mother run the orchard. When Marshall was killed in an accident in 1988, his son Robert, the current owner, returned to run the operation. Robert and his wife Linda leased the farm from the family until 2001 when they bought Lewis Orchards and the farm from the estate.
Robert and Linda have been married for twenty-six years and work together to run the farm and market. Linda works the retail side of the business, and Robert works behind the scenes in the wholesale operation. Linda said their secret to a successful working relationship is to keep any private issues out of the building.
Over the years, Lewis Orchards expanded numerous times from a simple roadside lean-to shed offering mainly peaches, to the current building that opened in 2003. In the early 1970s, they began selling vegetables. Linda added fresh bottled milk for sale when the newest building opened. Even when the market closes for the winter, Linda says they still sell milk year-round to their regular customers.
The market is open from mid-June until Thanksgiving. According to Linda, their most popular produce are peaches, sweet corn, and pumpkins; however, they also offer a full range of locally-grown fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, watermelons, cantaloupes, blueberries, lettuce, green beans, and much more. In recent years, Robert and Linda added a pick-your-own apple orchard, and cut-your-own zinnias. Additionally, the market offers jams, jellies, sauces, cheeses, milk, soap, and an assortment of other goods.
When they planted apple trees, they realized they would need to add a fence to the property. Linda, worried that young children might wander away from their parents onto busy Route 28, did not want just any fence. “I’ve always liked different,” said Linda. Both Linda and Robert loved stone walls, but such a fence would normally be too expensive. Luckily, a large amount of stone became available when a nearby builder excavated tons of stone for a foundation for a home and was not allowed to rebury it, so Linda and Robert obtained the stone and built the beautiful stacked stone fence that now borders the market.
In response to customer requests and a desire to start baking again, Linda added fresh baked pies to the market’s offerings this year. Linda said that many customers who stop in are specifically looking for dessert items and most often request pies. Many years ago, when Robert and Linda’s sons were young, Linda used to bake a selection of fresh breads on Friday and Saturday nights to earn extra money. After the tragic death of their son, Marshall, fourteen years ago, Linda said she decided to focus on just the market and stopped selling the baked goods. By the spring of last year, Linda was ready to start baking again and placed an order for a new stove.
Kim Bailey, the former baker for Selby’s, helps Linda bake the pies which include peach, blueberry, peach-berry, cherry, apple, and a few no-sugar options. The two plan to bake on Thursday through Sunday. Many customers who remember Linda’s fresh-baked breads are hoping she’ll add them to the lineup, as well, but Linda says she wants to focus on pies for now.
When asked why people from near and far keep coming back to Lewis Orchards season after season, Linda replied that most produce is picked daily if not every other day. “We believe in quality over quantity,” said Linda. “No fruit that’s been on the ground is ever sold. Robert’s great-grandfather believed that if it’s on the ground, it’s on the ground for a reason, and it stays on the ground.”
Although the Lewises’ generation-spanning affinity for selling quality produce contributes to their continuing success and steady stream of loyal customers, Linda thinks one more factor is equally important: love. “Farming is sowing seeds of love and working with Mother Nature,” said Linda. A little love is packaged with every piece of fresh produce they sell.