HARRISBURG, Pa. – Dwight Mickey spent his time at the 2023 Pennsylvania Farm Show baking countless trays of apple cider donuts and lightly dusting each one with a cinnamon sugar mixture – just as he has for years.
But at this year’s show, Mickey went about the routine task with a heavy heart.
Mickey, who owns Shatzer’s Fruit Market and Orchards in Chambersburg, Pa., lost his father, Jack, less than two weeks before the show began. The family has long been a fixture at the Farm Show, dating back to 1917 when Mickey’s great-uncle began exhibiting at the event. In 1920, Mickey’s grandmother started helping at the show, cleaning and preparing apples for the Apple Booth, and Jack exhibited in fruit contests for over 50 years.
But this year, after losing his father, the family tradition almost came to an end.
Jack passed away on Dec. 27, 2022, at the age of 90, and Dwight’s grief was almost too much to bear.
“It was such an emotional time taking care of my dad. I was ready to just go sit in the middle of the orchard and skip the show,” Mickey said. “But I couldn’t. Dad would’ve wanted me to go.”
In fact, that was Jack’s last request.
The last conversation Mickey had with his father before he passed was about apples, and the show. Even at the age of 90, Jack sprayed last year’s apple crop, and he urged his son not to let the effort be for nothing.
“The last time he spoke was the Friday before Christmas, and he told me ‘I sprayed those apples and now I want you to exhibit them at the Farm Show,’” Mickey said.
So he did.
Mickey began exhibiting at the farm show in 1977 and only missed one year, 2011, when a hail storm damaged the orchard. Over the years he accumulated countless wins and awards, and for a few years he used the prize money to pay for a semester of college.
It usually takes at least 10 days to get all of the entries ready for the show, Mickey said, but this year he was busy tending to his father and only had five days to go through numerous apple varieties to come up with 180 entries.
It wasn’t ideal.
“I’ve been averaging 100 to 125 entries each year, but I have new varieties such as Evercrisp and Crimson Crisp, to give me a total of 25 varieties (awards are issued for seven classes within each variety),” Mickey said. “With my father’s situation this year, I wasn’t able to put the same effort into getting it all ready.”
In the end, it still paid off.
At this year’s Farm Show, Mickey took home prizes across several classes from every variety he entered, including more than 40 first place honors with both apples and pears.
This year was Mickey’s best showing at the Farm Show since in more than 40 years of exhibiting.
Beyond the numbers, however, the wins have a special meaning.
“I couldn’t believe it when I saw the prizes. It was an emotional thunderstorm,” Mickey said. “My dad was my business partner and best friend. He would’ve been surprised by this, but he always knew we grew good apples.”
And they’ve been doing it for a long time.
Mickey’s grandparents, Edison and Martha Shatzer, started the family business in 1932. Jack and his wife, Wilma, took over the Franklin County orchard in 1971 and now Mickey runs the 25-acre operation.
Mickey will keep the orchard going and he’ll continue to exhibit and work the Apple Booth at the Farm Show for years to come. It is a Mickey family tradition, and Jack wouldn’t have it any other way.
“My dad was always pretty humble about things, but he always believed strongly in the Farm Show,” Mickey said. “He worked until he was 90 and he came here every year, so when he told me that I have to exhibit the apples this year, I just had to be here.”
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