"Levering Orchard was founded in 1908 by Frank Levering's grandfather,
Ralph Levering, who was originally a strawberry and sweet potato
farmer in eastern Tennessee. Legend has it that he grew tired of
having to stoop for a living. He wanted to reach for the sky as
he picked his fruit. So in 1907, the Columbia University-educated
Ralph Levering wrote the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington
D.C., inquiring about the best place to set out an apple orchard
in the Southeast. Where would apples grow best to escape spring
On the southeastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains came the reply.
There, the soil is fertile and deep and the sunlight abundant. There
the so-called "thermal belt" along the side of the mountain
offers protection from freezes which often kill fruit in its embryonic
stages at lower and higher elevations. In 1907, Ralph Levering took
two legs of a famous walk. He walked all the way from from Asheville,
N.C., to Roanoke, Va. and both times stopped at this particular
piece of land in Carroll County, Va., that would eventually become
Levering Orchard. One stipulation made by his wife, Clara Osborne
Levering, was that the place have beautiful view. And a beautiful
view it has. The other stipulation was that it be near a Quaker
community, and that was answered too with the Quaker meeting in
nearby Mount Airy, NC, just 12 miles to the south.
In February, 1908, Ralph and Clara Levering moved into a log cabin
on the lawn of what is now Frank and Wanda Levering's residence.
There Clara, 9 months pregnant, gave birth to Sam Levering, the
third of her three children. A well-known Quaker, Sam was Frank's
father; he ran the orchard from 1939 until 1986, when he and his
wife, Miriam, entered into a partnership with Frank and Wanda.
Levering Orchard was primarily an apple orchard until the 1970s
when Sam Levering had a major insight -- the several cherry trees
planted near his and Miriam's home drew flocks of pick-your-own
customers just as surely as the multitudes of hungry birds. There
were never enough cherries to meet demand. So, despite the conventional
wisdom that cherries couldn't be grown commercially in this region,
in 1972, Sam boldly pushed out a large block of apple trees and
went into the cherry business in a big way. Sam's risky experiment
turned out to be the then-floundering orchard's salvation. Today
Levering Orchard's primary crop is cherries.
On a good season, the cherries start as early as late May and can
extend to the Fourth of July and sometimes beyond. Almost 30 years
after Sam's planting, Levering Orchard claims the title as the largest
cherry orchard in the South and draws customers from as far as Washington
DC and Atlanta to pick its 43 varieties of sweet and sour cherries.
As Deane Kern wrote for a recent issue of Blue Ridge Country magazine,
"Every June, Levering Orchard welcomes more than 20,000 visitors
from the Blue Ridge and beyond.... Frank always encourages visitors
to bring picnic lunches and take time to savor the clear mountain
breezes and breathtaking scenic views. He declares that his delicious
fruit cannot be found in grocery stores at even twice the price."
The orchard maintains its ties with the past and continues to have
a smaller operation with peaches, nectarines and pears in July and
August and apples in the fall. Tour buses, church and school groups
are also welcome and if you can catch Frank or Wanda, they're happy
to give tours!
In 2001, Wanda
and Frank's Orchard Gap Press published the Fruit Orchard Cookbook,
which drew together over 90 years of favorite family recipes. For
more information, check out Orchard Gap Press.