- Associated Press - Monday, June 23, 2014

WINSLOW, Ill. (AP) - Oriana Kruszewski came to this country with her husband, Jack, from Hong Kong 43 years ago wanting to own a piece of land.

She says it didn’t have to be a lot of land or even the best quality ground. They were not strangers to hard work and they wanted to produce good wholesome food. Eventually they purchased 40 acres near Winslow and launched their dream - Oriana’s Oriental Orchard.

“When I came here I missed certain things like the Asian pear,” said Kruszewski. “When I buy one here they look beautiful; they come with a jacket, but are very expensive. I wished I could grow them and that’s how I got started.”

She calls herself a solo farmer because she works about six acres pretty much by herself. Jack still helps but works full time off the farm, and they are both getting older.

“All my trees I make myself,” she said. “I look around and when someone tells me they have a pear that’s very good I taste it. If I like it I graft it on my own tree, and in a couple years I taste the pear again. If I still like it, I keep it.”

Grafting is a technique by which a section of a stem with leaf buds is inserted into the stock of a tree. It is used to reproduce an original cultivar, repair injured fruit trees or for top-working an established tree to one or more different cultivars. Nurseries often use a budding method to produce fruit trees.

“You got to love this or you wouldn’t do it,” Kruszewski said. “In my third year I lost about 20 percent of my trees to the cold weather. I decided maybe everybody was right and I could not grow Asian pears in this part of the world, so I walked away from my trees. But later, I thought I would try again.”

She went back to work. Upon closer inspection, Kruszewski realized most of her root stock was still viable, so she started bud grafting them with hundreds of scions. After a few years her orchard began to show fruit and she was on her way.

“I planted and then grafted all the trees myself,” she said. “Based on experience, I learned. There are so many ways you can make a tree. I try my own way. I pruned by hand and watered by hand. I did everything by hand and my trees came back.”

Today, Oriana’s Oriental Orchard is USDA Certified Organic. She waters using her own underground spring and refuses to use chemical pesticides or herbicides, instead choosing a specific time to mow that she says keeps bugs from jumping into her trees. She and Jack mow the six-acre orchard area several times a season, and now tend to more than 500 trees. She annually sells more that a ton of Asian pears, pawpaws and persimmons, as well as a selection of berries, black walnuts and unusual fruit trees for home gardens at farmers markets or from their orchard.

“I like the farmers markets a lot because my food goes directly to the person who will enjoy it,” she said.

Kruszewski is determined to share her knowledge of the art of grafting. She hosts an annual workshop on the farm and is working in the Chicago area with After School Matters, a not-for-profit organization offering Chicago high school students innovative out-of-school activities.

“Many schools there have small gardens now and are beginning to work with small orchards,” she said. “I’ve been doing workshops and helping encourage young people to grow fruit. Grafting is a simple technique. The timing and the materials are important, but everyone can do it.”

She said she might be aging, but is not ready to quit. Instead she has plans for expansion.

“I am building a greenhouse and will be planting ancient medicinal Chinese plants,” Kruszewski said. “It is something I love to do and, because I am Asian, it is already in my blood.”

She faces daunting odds against success with the herbs she has in mind, but expects the greenhouse will level the playing field.”

“People want to eat healthy, and I am in the right place and this is the right time,” she said.

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