Secret Lives of Staff: Meet Teri DeAngelo, grape farmer

There’s so much more to Penn State Behrend’s faculty and staff members than what you see them doing on campus. In this occasional series, we take a look at some of the interesting, unconventional, and inspiring things that members of our Behrend community do in their free time. 

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Office of Strategic Communications, Penn State Behrend

Most Penn Staters say they bleed blue-and-white. In the case of Teri DeAngelo, records specialist in the Registrar’s office, the colors might be just a shade off.

Grapes are in DeAngelo’s blood, and come September every year, the fourth-generation farmer bleeds purple and white as she helps her husband, Paul, harvest more than 150 acres of Concord and Niagara grapes from their vineyards.

A year’s worth of work comes down to this: six weeks of harvest, typically beginning in late September when the grapes have reached a certain ripeness and have the minimum sugar content required by the processor. The DeAngelos sell most of their crops to Welch Foods in North East, which presses them into juice, jelly, and more.

There is science (sugar testing) involved in determining the right time to harvest, but anyone with any sense of smell who drives through eastern Erie County along Lake Erie this time of year can tell you that it’s picking time. The aroma of ripening grapes hangs in the air along the 60-mile Concord grape belt that stretches from Erie County in Pennsylvania to Chautauqua County in New York.

A Family Affair

The DeAngelo’s farm, which sits on 99 acres in Harborcreek with an additional 82 leased acres, has been in Teri DeAngelo’s family for more than 100 years.

“My great-grandparents purchased the farm in 1911 and it’s been passed down through the family since then. We bought it from my parents in 2005.”

By day, Teri works in the Registrar’s office at Behrend, supporting all of the work involved in scheduling classes, rooms, and final exams and assisting students with schedule changes. At home, she pitches in on the farm wherever she is needed.

Teri and Paul’s teenage children—Paul III, 18, and Molly, 15—help too.

“Paul III helps with some tractor work and sugar testing during harvest, and both kids help with baling hay,” she said. “My role on the farm is managing the bookkeeping/tax records. I tie grapes, drive a tractor, and sugar test. And, of course, I help with the baling in the summer. Everybody bales hay.”

baling hay

The hay is for the beef cows, which the DeAngelos raise for themselves and their families.

We caught up with Teri to learn more about her life off campus:

What do you like about grape farming? I enjoy the history, the heritage, and the traditions. I enjoy having roots. I love that we have acres of land with creeks and woods for the kids to roam.

What’s the hardest thing about farming? Being dependent on the weather.

What’s a hidden benefit of farming? Being close to God and nature. Your work is right outside your door.

How many people work on the farm? Our employees are seasonal, but we have between 12-15 people each year.

What is your biggest worry about the farm? Spring frosts and invasive pests. We’re especially worried about the spotted lantern fly. It’s making its way to our area and it could, potentially, wipe out acres of grapes at a time. PSA: If you spot one (this is what they look like), please report it right away.

How large is your harvest? Last year, we picked more than 1,200 tons of Concord grapes and more than 120 tons of Niagara grapes.

What would people be surprised to know about farming? It is not easy. My father always said, “if farming were easy, everyone would do it.” My husband has such vast knowledge on everything from weather patterns to chemicals to machinery – it’s a higher education earned through experience!

What is your favorite way to eat grapes? Do you make wine or jelly? My family likes them right off the vine. Sadly, we have failed miserably at making wine in the past, and I leave the processing to Welch’s—their jelly, jam, juice, and fruit snacks are the best!

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