Maggie Nesciur owns an unusual business. She leaves her New York City home early in the morning—4 a.m. sometimes—drives miles away from the city and picks fruit all day. Then, she buys the fruit, returns to the city and sells the fruit to one of the 19 New York restaurants in her network. Or sometimes she drives up to housing projects in Brooklyn, opens the back of her truck, and tells everyone, “Have some fresh fruit.” For every ten pounds of fruit she picks for a restaurant, she donates one pound to underprivileged kids. When the harvest season is over, she speaks at schools about the importance of eating fresh produce.
Maggie Nesciur calls this business Flying Fox and dubs herself a “fruit hunter.” “I don’t have a business plan,” says Nesciur. “I just do it because I love it so much.”
Maggie Nesciur of Flying Fox Picks Cavalier Cherries at Weaver’s Orchard
Last Friday, Nesciur started her day at 4 a.m. and drove to Weaver’s Orchard to pick cherries. Although she has what she describes as a “nice network” of cherry farmers in Hudson, NY, she decided to try a new farm. She found Weaver’s Orchard’s website and headed southwest. She spent the day picking and hoped to pick twelve flats of cherries. Sometimes, she says, she’ll go to farms where the energy just isn’t right and the grounds aren’t well taken care of. “I’m selective,” she says. Standing among the cherry trees and looking down the hill at the farm market, she decided Weaver’s is different than that; “it’s pretty.”
She chose a good year to come cherry picking. Ed Weaver, president of the orchard, remarked Friday that Weaver’s cherry trees now cover 12 acres, up from the three original acres of cherries, and that his goal is to sell directly to customers through pick-your-own.
Still, Morgantown, PA may seem like quite a trek from New York City, no matter how large the cherry orchard is. All things considered, though, Nesciur said Weaver’s wasn’t too far away. “I’ll drive anywhere,” she says, in search of good fruit. If someone calls her up and tells her about an opportunity that is the right fit, she’ll go there. “I’ll go to North Carolina for my figs—they’re perfect.” After a full day at Weaver’s, Nesciur had a full day of strawberry picking lined up at another farm. “I don’t sleep in the summer time,” she tells me.
A full and sleepless summer for Nesciur is a rewarding business nonetheless. In 2003, she began selling fruit to one restaurant in the city. “Everybody loved the fruit,” she says. As word spread about the delicious produce, her business grew. Every time she added a restaurant, she looked for a new farm to add. Mostly, she learned of them through word of mouth. She now harvests from 14 farms and serves 19 restaurants.
As she builds relationships with farmers, she supports them in two ways. First, she connects them with city accounts, finding that if a chef samples fresh fruit, the restaurant is very likely to begin a relationship with the farm. The fruit speaks for itself. Second, Nesciur often helps farms that are smaller than Weaver’s by pruning trees and cleaning their grounds. She regrets that at small farms, some food goes to waste because farmers lack the help they need.
Nesciur’s business has always included ways of helping those who need it, and that includes those in the city who may never be able to eat at the restaurants she serves. When she drives her truck up to housing projects in Brooklyn, kids are amazed at the taste of fresh fruit because many of them have never tasted it. They’ve had canned pineapple, she says, but nothing straight from the farm.
Nesciur herself was raised in Brooklyn. “I grew up on concrete. I thought raspberries grew on trees.” Nevertheless, when the idea for Flying Fox inspired her, she was determined to educate herself about farming. Ten years ago, she traveled out west to apprentice herself to farmers there. In Wyoming, she had an apprenticeship near Yellowstone Park at a vegetable and fruit farm. Even though her interest in farming was strong, she laughs at how much she had to learn. “I pulled out the entire cornfield because I thought it was weeds.” Out west, she learned what she calls “harvesting craft.” She now knows, for instance, that a lot of fruit gets picked prematurely, before it reaches full flavor. That’s part of the reason she always travels to farms herself and picks fruit herself—so she can taste the flavor.
Maggie Nesciur’s appreciation of farmland and love for city life connect in this unusual business, demonstrating the many benefits that can result when the two worlds come together.