LynOaken, Chamber’s Agricultural Business of the Year, continues to diversify and make upgrades
MEDINA – Darrel Oakes and his sister Wendy Oakes Wilson are the third generation to operate the family farm started by their grandfather Leonard Oakes in 1919.
On Thursday evening, LynOaken Farms will be honored as the Orleans County Chamber of Commerce’s Agricultural Business of the Year.
The award is not only a tremendous honor, but a perfect preview of the events leading up to celebration of LynOaken Farms 100th anniversary next year, Wilson said.
“We don’t know who nominated us for the award, but we were pleasantly shocked and honored,” Wilson said. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Leonard Oakes had just gotten certified in poultry service from Cornell when he purchased land at the corner of Alps and Platten roads in the town of Yates.
“There were apple trees on it, but he wanted to raise chickens,” Wilson said. “He also had row crops, tart cherries and cucumbers.”
When Leonard died in 1951, his son James and new wife Wanda came back from Purdue to run the farm.
“Wanda was just pregnant with Darrel at the time,” Wilson said. “Our father was not into raising livestock and poultry, but was more interested in fruit, so he started planting cherries, apples and peaches.”
James ran the farm until the early 1980s, when Darrel took over.
Wilson at the time was still a teenager. She graduated from high school and went to the University of Michigan, intending to pursue a career in international business. She spent a year in Brazil and a year in Spain as an exchange student.
When Darrel offered her a position on the farm as treasurer and head of sales, she accepted.
She is to first to admit she does not have a green thumb and the only thing she has been able to nourish is her husband and son.
“I’m the first employee who is not responsible for anything in the orchards,” she said. “But what I brought to the table was experience in business and accounting, and the ability to sell.”
In addition to the home farm in Lyndonville, the Oakes branched out to Ridge Road, Medina, where they opened a market and gift shop. Since Wilson joined her brother, they have a presence in 90 different locations in Western and Central New York where they sell apples and peaches.
In 2004, they built a controlled atmosphere storage; in 2008 they planted a heritage U-pick orchard with 300 varieties and started a winery; in 2013, they began picking in the heritage orchard and added a pavilion to the property.
This year they have built a new packing facility, which will be up and running in a few weeks and will allow Oakes to do six times more what they currently do, Wilson said. It will also allow them to facilitate the promotion of private label to retailers and to sort peaches on that line as well.
Leonard Oakes Estate Winery will also be operating a new tasting room, called Bar Cultivar, at the Barrel Factory in Buffalo’s Old First Ward.
The Oakes are not content to rest on their laurels, and are talking about expanding the U-pick orchards and remodeling, expanding and repurposing the existing retail building to take advantage of new opportunities, Wilson said.
From Leonard Oakes’ one-main operation in 1919, the family operation grew to seven full-time employees in 2001 and 28 full-time year-round now. Eighty-nine are currently employed during the peak harvest.
The fourth generation of Oakes are heavily involved in the business.