A fruitful family tradition Indian Orchards was started in 1913 by Nancy Bernhardt's grandfather. It had a bit part in a film.

Posted: September 03, 2006

Before the sun started to heat up the day, Nancy Bernhardt walked in from the fields with a carryall of just-picked blackberries.

At summer's end, the trees in Indian Orchards are heavy with peaches, pears and early apples, but there are still some berries.

Her husband, Bob, started to set up a selection of fruit in pints and quarts in the small food stand not far from the 200-year-old wooden barn at the family-owned orchard in Middletown Township.

The farm is a quiet, low-key operation that appeals to customers such as Walter C. Snyder, a retired Swarthmore postmaster who has been buying the orchards' fresh fruit for nearly 70 years.

Nancy Bernhardt's grandfather, Herman Cope, who worked in Philadelphia and wanted a place in the country, started the farm about 1913. He planted some of the apple trees that are on the farm today.

During World War II, several Japanese American families from California who otherwise would have spent the war interred in camps lived and worked at the 75-acre farm, Nancy Bernhardt said.

Her parents - Fred W. Swan and Sarah Cope - helped out at the farm in the summer for years. The Swans later moved onto the farm.

Middletown manager Bruce Clark recalled that Swan was very much a naturalist who enjoyed taking people on the property who had an interest in ecology and plants.

"They were a very delightful couple," he said. Nancy and her husband, who arrived in the early 1970s, "have been good stewards" of the land, he added.

Indian Orchards is now about half of its original size, as some of the land became a township park.

Starting in the 1930s, for many years, the Girl Scouts used part of the woods for a day camp and, eventually, bought that section of the property. When the Scouts decided to sell, neighbors rallied to preserve the acreage, with its old trees and streams, which was a habitat for migrating birds and small wildlife.

The Middletown Township Land Conservancy persuaded the township in the early 1980s to acquire 36 acres as a passive recreation park. Today, visitors can walk through the trails and picnic at the park.

On the farm side, Bob and Nancy Bernhardt's two sons, Benjamin and Timothy, helped rejuvenate the orchards in the 1970s, planted raspberries in 1976, and added Christmas trees. They sold the fruit at West Chester markets and at an upscale food market that the sons had started in Devon. They sold fruit there through the late 1990s.

Today, the farm is open to those who want to pick their own fruit, and the small stand has whatever fruits and vegetables are in season, as well as preserves made by a friend.

The farm supplies fruit for two community-supported agriculture programs: Red Hill Farm in Aston and Pennypack Farm in Horsham. Indian Orchards also supplies some fruit to the Swarthmore Co-Op, other farms, Westtown School, and Swarthmore College.

Visitors learn of the farm by word of mouth or they find it online, Nancy Bernhardt said. Nearly hidden off Route 352, the site is next to Linvilla Orchards, another family-run farm that has pick-your-own activities on a larger scale.

At Indian Orchards, "it seems kind of mellow and laid-back," said Sam Arnold, 14, who had been pruning the raspberries and weeding. "It's pretty cool."

A real crowd descended on the farm a few years ago when M. Night Shyamalan's crew decided the old apple orchard was perfect for a scene in the movie The Village.

Trucks and video cable took over the barnyard for a day of filming. It was "a flash" in the movie, Nancy Bernhardt said.

But that hubbub was an exception. A first-time visitor who had been picking peaches and raspberries with a young child in the fields commented that it was almost as though you had your own farm. Birdsong and the hum of locusts were the only sounds breaking the silence that morning.

The farm, which has a lot of treescape and shady spots, is restful, Bob Bernhardt said.

"It's green and peaceful," Nancy Bernhardt agreed. "It's for people who care about walking lightly on the land."

Paige Menton, who collects fruit orders for Pennypack Farm, said the Bernhardts are patient people. Nancy, 68, who taught art and science at Westtown School, and Bob, 73, a retired West Chester University biology teacher, have hosted small groups of students from private schools at the farm.

Menton said the Pennypack customers had been very happy with the fruit - the berries and peaches. Next will come the apples and cider. The homemade applesauce is "just divine," she said.

The Bernhardts are "so passionate about what they're doing," Menton said. "They're very thoughtful about maintaining the land and preserving their land responsibly."

Contact suburban staff writer Mary Anne Janco at 610-313-8217 or mjanco@phillynews.com.

For Information

The farm is on Copes Lane off Route 352 in Middletown Township. For hours and more information, call 610-565-8387. The farm is closed Tuesdays.

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