Stephen Demergasso is revitalizing Harrisburg orchard with everything from bull-riding to U-pick.
By Aliya Hall
HARRISBURG, Ore. — Stephen Demergasso has plans for Detering Orchards. In his one year of ownership, Demergasso has added an agritainment aspect to the 120-acre orchard by bringing in a bar, taco truck and mechanical bull.
“I want people to come out and have entertainment options,” he said.
Demergasso bought the orchard last year from the Detering family, who ran it for 40 years. He said the orchard focused a lot on providing fruit for canners, and although he wants to keep those customers, he wants to bring in new ones as well.
“I’m trying to think of more ways to get people to come out here,” he said. “Why make the drive here? We can’t compete with the prices in grocery stores, so we create a premium experience for people.”
Having helped with his family’s hazelnut orchard, Saint Filberts, in Harrisburg, Demergasso has had farming experience. He now lives in Seattle with his wife, where he worked as an accountant. When he saw the orchard for sale, he said he thought, “Why not try to run it?”
“A lot of people love the farm,” he said. “I decided to give it a shot.”
Demergasso moves back and forth between Seattle and Harrisburg, but will live in Harrisburg during the summer when the orchard is in full swing.
He said there hasn’t been any challenges in taking over the business because the Damien family, who farmed with the Deterings for around 30 years, are still involved.
“They really have this instinct on how to farm everything, and they’re a great family to work with,” Demergasso said. “We can’t do it without them.”
The orchard employs eight people in the field during off-season, and 25 people during the summer.
Detering Orchards grows over 40 crops. Among those are 32 apple varieties and eight peach varieties. Demergasso’s favorite fruit is the Spring Crest Peach.
“There are so many crops and varieties here,” he said. “From my perspective, I don’t know everything yet in one year.”
Demergasso said that the orchard’s U-Pick is what sets Detering apart from the other fruit stands in the area, because of its size and the variety of crops to choose from. Demergasso said the orchards are designed around a U-Pick concept, with different varieties of produce mixed in.
Detering Orchards is open between June and December, and Demergasso has already put together the event schedule for 2018. Along with outlining days that produce will be available, he has also added events like pie making demonstrations, canning demonstrations, Latin Family Day and harvest festivities.
The value-added experience also extends to Detering’s products. The orchard works with local Eugene brewery Elkhorn, which helps turns their fruit into alcoholic beverages. Demergasso called the process “farm to brewery.” He said the orchard also presses cider onsite.
Detering sells its produce to Market of Choice in Eugene and Corvallis, as well, with daily deliveries during the summer.
“We’re trying to move our product to stay in business,” Demergasso said.
He said the community response to the orchard has been positive, with many people “coming up to me personally and saying ‘thank you’ for continuing the farm.”
Although Detering Orchards isn’t the only option for fresh fruit in the area, Demergasso said that he doesn’t view the other farms and fruit stands as rivals because they have their own clientele.
“People will go where they go; customers like variety,” he said.
He said it’s rewarding to see how happy the orchard makes visitors, but growing the crops and seeing the first produce of the year is the most exciting.