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For the past 25 years, Larry Ayres spent every day walking among his apple trees. With hard work and determination, the Ayres family has become a local icon of entrepreneurship.
The Ayres Family Orchard started in 1983, when Ayres and his wife, Sherry, took a leap of faith and planted 1,400 apple trees on his 40-acre Owen County farm.
He said the land had too many hills for corn or tobacco to be successful. He looked to fruit trees to make his land profitable. He started researching different horticulture techniques and planted about 25 trees shortly after moving to the land in 1973. Only when he felt comfortable in the fine art of orchard management did he expand to full-scale operations.
His orchard has been expanded to include 40 different types of apple trees, peaches, blackberries and plums.
The different varieties of apple trees allow him to offer produce throughout the summer and fall. Some varieties ripen early in the summer, and the fall varieties were picked last week. He said he harvested enough apples to continue selling well into the holiday season.
The orchard requires year-round work. He said all the apples have been harvested, but the winter will be consumed with pruning, and painting the tree trunks to protect them from the winter weather. He spends six days a week working his orchard, pausing only for worship on Sunday.
He sells his fruit from a stand at his farm. The stand does not have a door, much less a lock. But he doesn’t need them. If he is not home, then customers can help themselves to his apples and pay for it by leaving the money in a jar.
Ayres credits the farmers’ market for his success. In addition to setting up shop at the Owen County Farmer’s Market, the Ayres family travels to similar markets in Boone and Franklin counties.
“People want fresh food and they want to know where their food comes from,” he said. “If you buy an apple from me, you know I grew it.”
He said people like to support the local economy and local farmers instead of the big corporations.
He said small businesses are vital to the economy because they are responsible for 60 percent of jobs. He said when people think of jobs, they think of factories and large employers, but it’s the small business that creates jobs and keeps Main Street alive.
The Ayres family hires three full-time employees, one high school co-op student and several seasonal employees.
They also gets help from his children, Lewis and Becky. He said he hopes his children will take over the family business one day.
“This is a labor of love,” Larry said.