- Associated Press - Thursday, November 26, 2015

MIDDLEFIELD, Conn. (AP) - Through wars, financial panics and a freeze that destroyed its peach crop a century ago, eight generations of the Lyman family have sustained its farm in the hills of central Connecticut.

The family behind Lyman Orchards is now looking to cultivate the next generation of owner-operators, concerned that not enough younger members will step up to keep the farm run by the family, as it has been since it was established nearly 275 years ago.

“I think it’s a little of ‘to be determined,’” said John Lyman, executive vice president of Lyman Orchards. “Nothing lasts forever.”

Last summer, a two-day family conference drew 16 ninth-generation family members from around the U.S. to expose them to the business and help identify future leaders for the farm.

Two members of that generation are committed to Lyman Orchards, and John Lyman said his son, a University of Connecticut engineering graduate, might also seek employment with the business. Lyman said the hope is the family will find enough members to sustain the business for the next decade and beyond.

Lyman, 58, has been the only family member of his generation to work at the business since a brother became an insurance agent and a sister went to journalism school. Five other family members hold seats on the 10-member board, and the farm’s president and chief executive, Steve Ciskowski, is not a relative.

Ira Bryck, director of the University of Massachusetts Family Business Center, said there are many family businesses that extend through a fourth generation. A business making it to the ninth generation, he said, “is off the charts.”

He said family members have a powerful incentive to ensure such an enterprise succeeds: “‘Iwill not be responsible for the failure of a centuries-old enterprise.’ That person will be a good steward,” he said.

The initial 32-acre farm was founded in 1741 but has since grown to 1,100 acres, with 300 acres used for the orchard and a 450-acre golf course.

Until a destructive freeze in the winter of 1917-18, its 500 acres of peaches, with other peach farms in the state, made Connecticut the second largest peach-producing state after Georgia, Lyman said. Lyman Orchards has since switched to apples as its primary crop, but it still grows peaches, blueberries, raspberries and pumpkins.

The farm, which plans a celebration next year of its 275th anniversary, also features a wholesale pie business, corn maze and a retail store selling pies, fruits, apple cider and other products.

Lyman initially avoided agriculture as an occupation after working summers on the farm as a youth. He changed direction, however, after working in an orchard in Holland 35 years ago.

“What I didn’t anticipate was how much I loved about the industry. There’s so much more to learn, to bring back. Simple things like pruning.”

The prospects in the ninth generation include Luke Patterson, whose father is a cousin of John Lyman’s. Patterson has been working at the family business since 2012, starting with general labor in the orchard, the pick-your-own business and now a systems administrator.

“I’ve always had a fondness for the company,” he said.

And Jack Bascom, John Lyman’s nephew, worked while in high school, grading and sizing fruit. “Going forward, I can see myself staying long-term,” he said.

Paul Sessions, director of the Center for Family Business at the University of New Haven and an occasional adviser to Lyman Orchards, said its board of directors deserves part of the credit for the success of the business. It’s helped it avoid an inward-looking perspective common among other family businesses, he said.

A key reason for its success over nearly three centuries, Sessions said, is its core farming business.

“The fact that they’re in a pretty basic industry and able to continue to supply the things that people need says a lot about why they’re still around,” he said.

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Follow Stephen Singer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SteveSinger10

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