‘It’s a wonderful life’: Passing the ‘pick your own’ torch at Butler’s Orchard

From left: Ben, Susan, Shirley, Tyler (rear), Wade and Hallie. (Courtesy Butler’s Orchard)

It’s hard to discuss Butler’s Orchard — the popular “pick your own” farm, in Germantown, Maryland — without using the word “family.”

The family business, started in 1950 by Shirley and George Butler when they purchased 37 acres and an 1850s-era log house, has invited generations of families to pick their own fruits and vegetables.

“Growing up on the farm, having the ability and freedom to have some acreage, it’s just a wonderful life,” said Wade Butler, who co-owned the business his parents started, with sister Susan and brother Todd. Todd died in 2010. Another sister, Carol, pursued other interests.

Now, in 2022, Butler said his family is making plans for the future.

“My sister, Susan, retired from Butler’s Orchard in 2017 — she had already started planting some trees before that,” Wade Butler told WTOP. “She and her husband, Washington White, started Waters Orchard — down the road from Butler’s — I think they picked their first crop in 2017 or 2018, and then they launched Doc Waters Cidery.”

Three weeks ago, on Jan. 15, Susan Butler died of cancer at the age of 63. After earning a degree in horticulture from the University of Maryland, her brother said Susan was a hands-on co-owner of the family business, from picking strawberries to mentoring employees on the feel-good aspects of customer relationships.

Susan Butler, and her husband, Washington White, founded Waters Orchard and Doc Waters Cidery. (Courtesy Butler’s Orchard)

“She had a three-and-a-half year battle with cancer,” Wade said. “Toward the end of this summer, she decided that the stress, anxiety and pressure of the cancer and the treatments was just more than she wanted.”

“So, she and her husband, Washington, decided to sell the business to my three children, Hallie, Tyler and Ben,” Wade said.

Growing up on the farm, Ben Butler has experienced a generation immersed in the family business, as well as playing a role in customers’ experiences, and often, the creation of family traditions.

“I think it’s really special when we have customers who say, ‘I had to bring my kids, because my parents brought me,'” Ben Butler said.

Now 65, Wade Butler said he is pleased that the next generation of Butler family members will be involved in the evolution of the business — Hallie is 37, Tyler is 35 and Ben is 33.

“The fact that they’ve got such a great hold on this business, and are moving in directions that I don’t have the capabilities to, it’s gonna allow me to step back and take a much slower pace of life, and let these guys do the heavy lifting, which they’re already doing,” he said.

Ben Butler appreciates the responsibility he and his siblings are accepting.

“My aunt Susan, and my uncle Washington, as they grew the orchard and the cidery business, they had the faith in my generation, with my brother, sister, and I, to continue with their vision,” Ben Butler said. “They were unable to do so, but they had big dreams.”

Benjamin Butler says as the family businesses evolve, their focus will remain on hoping to inspire repeat visits: “That’s why we’re here. To create memories and experiences for families, and to see those go on, through the years.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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