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2 states of mind to grow fruit


From the front porch of their historic farmhouse in Pennsylvania, Glenn and Mary Sue Shaw can look out across the Mason-Dixon Line to the rolling fields of their fruit orchards in Harford County.

When they go to work in the mornings, the owners of Shaw Orchards frequently walk across the state line, leaving their Pennsylvania residence for their market and packing house in Maryland. There they ready shipments for delivery to supermarkets in both states.

If a question arises in the market, Mrs. Shaw can just give a shout from across the street or ride her bike over for a conference with her husband, should he be spending part of the day repairing farm machinery in a shed behind their home.

That's a whole lot cheaper than a telephone call from the market to the home -- which is billed at a long distance rate even though the two structures are about 100 yards apart. The Shaws have both Maryland and Pennsylvania phone numbers and addresses.

"It gets to be funny sometimes," Dr. Shaw said. "When we go to international [fruit-grower] meetings and they do a roll call, we stand up for both states. Everybody gets a big kick out of it."

Such is life on the Mason-Dixon Line. The Shaw family farm has straddled the states' border since 1841, with about 20 acres in Pennsylvania and several hundred in Harford.

A log home once stood on the larger Maryland portion, but 19th century ancestors made the decision to build the family home on the Pennsylvania side, Mrs. Shaw said, because they were concerned about the 10-mile journey they would have to make to Jarrettsville as Maryland voters. The trip to the polls in Stewartstown, Pa., is only about 3 miles.

Glenn Shaw's grandfather, Russell, planted the first commercial fruit trees on the farm in 1909 -- yielding a variety of York Imperial apples still sold at Shaw's today. His parents managed the farm until the early 1970s.

"We grow eight or 10 major varieties of peaches and six major varieties of apples," Dr. Shaw said. "But we have a lot more than that. We're always trying new things."

Glenn Shaw, 53, has a doctorate in post-harvest physiology from the University of Arkansas. He grew up on the farm and is the sixth generation of the family to live there.

"I can remember when horses were still used to mow the orchards," he said.

Mrs. Shaw, 51, was raised in Fayetteville, Ark., and has a %J bachelor's degree in education from the same school as her husband.

"I grew up on a farm so the hours and the weather uncertainties were things I had been used to," she said.

The couple live in a carefully restored, Georgian red-brick home built in 1860. Mrs. Shaw spends many evenings doing paperwork in the business office -- the original summer house, which predates the main home by five years. Family stories tell of the sound of cannon fire reaching the front porch during the Battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War.

Today, Maryland Route 23 cuts through the property.

With strawberry fields on both sides of the road, springtime pick-your-own customers usually can't tell you what state they're in. This time of year, though, the crop is apples. Dr. Shaw spends much of the day overseeing the harvesting of varieties including Red Delicious, McIntosh, Holiday, Cortland and Gala picked by 12 seasonal workers from Mexico. They and other employees help spray the fields, staff the market, drive delivery trucks and sell the products.

But much of the work is done by the Shaws themselves. Their two children, Barron, 25, and Anne Marie, 23 -- who live in Cincinnati and Tallahassee, Fla., respectively -- helped with picking, sorting, sales and deliveries while they were growing up. The Shaws don't know whether their children will come back to run the farm.

Mrs. Shaw runs the retail market, a cinder-block, barn-shaped building that is something of a landmark north of the last sharp curve on Route 23. With its high front porch, the original packing house was built close to the road by Dr. Shaw's grandfather to make it easier to load trucks.

There's parking for retail customers in front of that porch now, and the loading dock has been transformed into a display area for seasonal fruits. Rustic shelves are laden with baskets and boxes of apples, peaches and pears. There are colorful mums, pumpkins, cornstalks and bunches of Indian corn tied up with bows.

Gourds, dried flowers, honey, cider and apple butter are sold inside. The building is also used for sorting, washing and grading of fruit by size and quality. Crops include cherries, peaches, nectarines, apples, pears, strawberries and plums.

The market is open six days a week from July through Christmas, with strawberry picking beginning in May. The Shaws work every day, closing the market at 6 p.m., eating and then doing office work from 7 until 10 or 11 p.m.

"We're tired, but it's a good kind of tired," Mrs. Shaw said. "You feel like you've accomplished something. And at least we're closed on Sundays. That is this family's commitment to be with family, to rest and to go to church. It's just always been that way and we're grateful to have that."

From July until the end of October the Shaws are busy with the fruit harvest. From January through strawberry season in late May, the days are less hectic, with time to catch up on pruning, repairs, maintenance, planting, bookkeeping, taxes and payroll.

"I like the people," Mrs. Shaw said. "It's sweet because you watch families grow up. It's sad, too, because sometimes someone will come in alone and tell you they've lost somebody. But that's a part of being in business for so many years."

Every Saturday this month, hayrides will be offered in the Shaw apple orchards between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. The cost of $5 per person includes a large pumpkin. For information, call (410) 692-2429 or (717) 993-2974.

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