By Sean Clark and Kristina Stukalin
Hugh Willard chows down on pear slices.
“Slow down!” yells Youngsuk “Sue” Estabrook, “and let your wife try some!”
Willard and his family drove from Vienna, Va., just to get a taste of Estabrook’s Asian pears.
But Estabrook’s 30 years of slicing and selling pears for such loyal customers are about to end. The Virginia Gold Orchard, which sits on nearly 30 acres on Route 11 in Natural Bridge is for sale.
It wasn’t an easy decision for Estabrook. But her husband, Paul, died last year and their two children have their own careers. “Being alone for me, it’s too much work,” Estabrook said. “The orchard is old and the machines are getting old too.”
The Virginia Gold Orchard has been a staple of farmers’ markets for years. Customers return year after year as a fall ritual, buying Estabrook’s juicy pears for $4 per pound.
“Moms will come with their babies and now they are grown up, 20 or 30 years old, so that part is kind of memorable because people love to come in here and talk with me, and have tasters,” Estabrook said.
The orchard has been featured in a number of magazines, newspapers and TV shows, such as Gourmet, Southern Living, the Washington Post and Fox & Friends. The pears are commonly described as being a cross between an apple and a melon: crunchy and juicy.
The orchard has grown to 2,000 trees, yielding up to 16 different varieties of Asian pears. Estabrook created two of the varieties, named “Sunburst” and “Sweet and Sour.”
The orchard is listed for sale at $895,000. Tyler Williams, the listing agent at Virginia Estates, based in Afton, Virginia, said he’s received calls from a variety of potential buyers. One owns a cidery. Another grows herbs.
Other prospects call from Pennsylvania, New York and other northeastern states. One reason: the area’s appeal to retirees, especially those who aren’t quite ready to stop working.
“Having some avocation right on the property is very attractive to many people,” Williams said.
The Estabrooks relocated from the north in search of a warmer climate. They met in South Korea and moved to a New Hampshire farm, where he started a computer technology company.
They lacked farming experience, except a slight memory of Estabrook’s great-grandma’s pear farm. But the couple began planting pear trees on their 100 acres. They quickly learned that New Hampshire’s harsh climate was not good for the pear trees, so they decided to move.
“The land was something we could give to our children and that’s the main reason why we came farther south to farm,” Estabrook said. After a long search, the coupled ended up in Rockbridge County, Virginia and instantly knew it was the place for them. “It was just beautiful, my husband and I knew this was it. We would look no farther.”
Although Estabrook’s son, Argus Paul Estabrook, has no desire to run the farm himself, he is nostalgic about helping his father plant the first 1,000 trees.
“When you are thinning a tree, you are trying to make it as open as possible so it can collect light… The more open it is the easier it will bear fruit. You have to be open, too. for the fruits of your labor to be produced,” he said. “If you are too overwhelmed in your life, it’s like if the tree were too overwhelmed. You have to cut some things back.”