Good Fruit Grower

January 2012

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Good Fruit Growers of the Year The time is RIGHT T he Rice family has won prominence in the United States fruit industry in two ways: Family members have been in the right place at the right time, and they have also been in the right place at the wrong time. The four brothers who run this Pennsylvania-based company were chosen by the advisory board of Good Fruit Grower to receive this year's Good Fruit Grower of the Year Award. One example of "right place, right time" happened way back in 1790, when family patriarch Daniel Rice saw the potential for growing fruit in the hills along the eastern- most ridge of the Appalachian Mountains and planted one of the earliest fruit orchards in Adams County, Pennsylvania. The family today owns R & L Orchards comprising more than 800 acres of apples, peaches, and pears. A second example occurred in 1913, when Arthur Rice built a packing The four brothers who run Rice Fruit Company in Gardners, Pennsylvania, are the 2011 Good Fruit Growers of the Year. by Richard Lehnert house, not only to pack and ship the family's fruit but other growers' fruit as well. Today, Rice Fruit Company packs for about 40 other growers. It's the largest fresh apple packing facility east of the Mississippi River, stor- ing, packing, and selling about 1.7 million boxes of apples a year. Some of them are exported to countries in the Caribbean and Central America, filling containers that brought tropical fruits north. They also pack apples they bring in from the Southern Hemisphere. The Alar incident The outstanding example of "right time, wrong place" occurred in 1989, and it brought John Rice to prominence in the U.S. apple industry. He became the face of the industry during "the Alar scare." As he tells it, "I was chair of the IAI then, having moved up the officers' progression, when the Alar issue emerged. (IAI, the International Apple Institute, was the forerunner of the U.S. Apple Association.) It started with a CBS broadcast on 60 Minutes. A chemical which made apples redder, 60 Minutes said, was carcinogenic—even more so to children than adults. And it was inside the apple and couldn't be washed off. The story led to panic as mothers stopped and boarded school buses to take the apples out of their children's lunch boxes. "As chair of IAI, I was picked as the spokesperson. Even though the head of EPA and USDA both shrugged off the study behind the CBS report as junk science, it was a tough time to be heard and taken seriously." It wasn't a good time to explain that Alar had been used on a portion of the national crop for nearly 20 years and besides making apples redder, it kept them from dropping off trees and made them firmer and crisper. John Rice, soft-spoken and the epitome of calm and reason, was called into an arena with the formidable likes of CBS's Ed Bradley, talk show host Phil Donohue, and actress Meryl Streep. By May, however, public opinion was Lunch is often a Rice family affair, as several members work in the office or packing plant. From left are Rita Rice (married to Ben), Emily Rice-Townsend (daughter of David), Ted Rice, David Rice, Ben Rice (David's son), John Rice, Mark Rice, Daniel Rice (son of Ted). John's son Leighton was not available the day the picture was taken. "I counted. Eleven times he asked me the same ques- tion, 'Wouldn't you and your industry be better off today if they had done more testing before they sold you Alar?' He wasn't really looking for my opinion. He wanted to make 60 Minutes look good." Of that interview, Rice said, only 15 seconds appeared in the final broadcast in May of 1989. Rice also presented another 20-second statement, which IAI had insisted be included, unedited, as a condition for participating in the program. "A lot of growers saw me for the first time," Rice said of the notoriety. "I made the rounds and took the heat. Wrong place, right time." Fame that lasts While the Alar incident gave John Rice that brief flash of fame, he and his family hew closely to the principles that built the family business in the first place. Today, four brothers (sons of Arthur Rice, Jr., the third generation to run the company, and the seventh generation to grow apples in Adams County) manage the company, and the next generation is stepping in. As a young nephew once put it, "Mark "Retailers now put more emphasis on local produce… We've had to expand accordingly." —John Rice beginning to question the science behind the Natural Resources Defense Council's assertion of the dangers of Alar, which was the basis of the 60 Minutes broadcast, Rice said. "Reporters became more sympathetic and opinion began to turn our way. There was some counter-reaction to the mass hysteria that had cost our industry $250 million in two months." After CBS faced criticism for creating false hysteria, 60 Minutes began to prepare a new broadcast to defend its actions. Rice was invited to New York. He was interviewed off the air for 45 minutes by Ed Bradley. 10 JANUARY 1, 2012 GOOD FRUIT GROWER grows the apples, David puts them in boxes, Ted counts them, and John sells them." John Rice does the sales and market- ing. His son, Leighton, works for brother Mark in the orchard operation. Mark, the youngest Rice brother, has two children still in high school who have not yet made career choices. Mark is pres- ident of R & L Orchard Company. R & L stands for Rice and Lott, two families that came together to grow fruit in a partner- ship that started in the 1950s. The name endures today, but the Lott family sold its interest to the four Rice brothers 25 years ago. David Rice is the president of Rice Fruit Company. He manages production in the packing operation, and his youngest son, Ben, works for him. Ted Rice is in charge of office operations and account- ing. His son, Daniel, manages the company's information

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