HARRISBURG – As children pass through the edible nut exhibit at the 2009 Pennsylvania Farm Show, Parker Coble tests them on what they learned. As a former educator, quizzing students of all ages is nothing new for this Gettysburg, Pa., native.
Coble has been in the nut business for more than a half of a century and is chock full of nut knowledge. He raises more than 150 different cultivars, or varieties, of nuts on a few acres at his Adams County home and in northern Virginia.
Edible Nuts is one of the Farm Show’s learning stations, an interactive series of exhibits designed to get youth excited about agriculture. Coble hopes that he is able to educate enough youth through his exhibit that some of them will crack into the possibilities that the nut business offers like he did.
Coble followed in his father’s footsteps and began planting nut trees as a hobby to keep himself busy after retirement. Together, father and son developed new varieties of nuts that are larger, tastier and more disease resistant than their predecessors.
Some of the first varieties developed by Coble’s father in the 1950’s are still champion winners at the Pennsylvania Farm Show today.
This year, Coble’s family won more than 220 prizes for their nut entries in addition to having several exhibits on display in the Court of Champions.
From hobby to business, Coble runs Coble’s Edible Nuts along side his family, selling his award-winning nuts to enthusiasts across the country.
In addition to growing nuts, Coble maintains several types of fruit trees and berries. He sells many of his fruits to a local frozen custard shop and enjoys making apple cider and sauce to give to friends and family.
Despite these other interests, nuts are by far Coble’s favorites.
“Nuts have so many potential health benefits that people don’t realize,” explains Coble. “They are a great source of protein and have omegas, which are great for your heart.”
Coble knows something about having a good heart. In 1998, he was named National Outstanding Administrator of the Year, after a long career in education beginning with teaching, serving as a principal and then as an administrator.
He has also created and worked with several non-profit migrant worker organizations charged with improving relationships between farmers and their workers. Always an educator, Coble has even gone before Congress to teach legislators about the importance of migrant workers to the country’s agricultural industry.
Although Coble has retired from most of these activities, he manages to keep himself busy. He is currently experimenting with disease resistant nut trees, edible acorns and a new method of transplanting.
His grandchildren are currently pursuing other interests, but Coble hopes they will keep the nut business going.
“You plant a tree for the future generation,” said Coble. “I’m still planting trees and hopefully someone in my family will keep it going. I don’t want to take all of my knowledge with me to the grave.”
As for now, Coble will continue to experiment with nut production in hopes of keeping Pennsylvania’s nut industry growing.