Business Profile: Bill Suhr, Champlain Orchards

Bill Suhr, owner of Champlain Orchards in Shorham, Vt.

Bill Suhr, owner of Champlain Orchards in Shorham, Vt.

Bill Suhr was just 25 in 1998 when he bought this conserved apple orchard in Shoreham. The New England apple industry was up against hard times, largely because of foreign competition.  Vermont orchards were going out of business and Shoreham’s large apple packing co-operative was phasing out. Suhr knew that if he was to make a go of it, he would have to be creative.

“We were well on our way to having good ideas,” said Suhr, “and the Farm & Forest Viability Program helped us implement them.”  Working with the Intervale Center under a Viability contract, Suhr developed a business plan centered on the development of an apple processing facility. The plan was to make peeled apple slices to supply a Vermont pie company. Suhr also hoped to interest Vermont schools in purchasing peeled slices packaged in single-servings for school lunches.

Having completed his business plan, in 2005 Suhr paired operating capital with a $6,000 implementation award from the Viability Program to construct a state inspected “white room” for peeling apples—the first of its kind in Vermont. This joins a mix of new and retrofitted buildings in Champlain Orchards’ farmstead that now also house a cider mill, cold storage room, and packing facility. The business plan—centered on value-added processing and direct marketing—has proven successful.

The Vermont Farm Viability Program is a program
of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board.