Skip to Content
MIT News magazine

Charles Solenberger '57

Growing a family orchard.

Charles Robert Solenberger ‘57 arrived at MIT knowing little about the Institute. He had grown up in rural Virginia on his mother’s family orchard, going to a four-room schoolhouse for his earliest grades. When it was time for Solenberger to apply to college, his brother-in-law suggested MIT rather than the local state school. His father, who had always admired engineers, supported Solenberger’s choice.

Charles Solenberger ’57

MIT was challenging at first, but he was determined to make the most of the opportunities. “I had to work the first couple of years, but I fit everything in,” he says. “It taught me good work ethics. I’ve worked pretty much all my life. It gave me a way of thinking, a way of solving problems.”

Solenberger earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering and then worked briefly for Atlantic Research as a chemical engineer before returning to his family home in Virginia to devote himself to the orchard.

In the 50 years since he took the helm, Fruit Hill Orchard has evolved from a 150-acre plot to one of the largest orchards in Virginia, with more than 3,000 acres. The area, in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley only 70 miles from Washington, DC, has become much more populous since his childhood. Solenberger has preserved his land for agriculture, despite lucrative development offers.

He and his wife, Bessie, have three daughters; all work in the family business, which was founded around 1900. Each year, they grow more than a million bushels of apples, which are used for juice and applesauce. They also grow peaches on 30 to 40 acres, which ­Solenberger describes as a “very minor” sideline.

Solenberger’s business interests haven’t been limited to Fruit Hill Orchard. He has been involved with Green Inc., a supplier of agricultural chemicals mainly to the apple industry, and with companies that provide cold storage for apples and land moving for highways and tunnels.

He is also committed to community service and spent about 35 years on the board of a local hospital. In his free time, he likes to read, shoot pool, and hike. “I like land,” Solenberger says. “I like what land looks like; I like what it can be used for.”

Keep Reading

Most Popular

computation concept
computation concept

How AI is reinventing what computers are

Three key ways artificial intelligence is changing what it means to compute.

still from Embodied Intelligence video
still from Embodied Intelligence video

These weird virtual creatures evolve their bodies to solve problems

They show how intelligence and body plans are closely linked—and could unlock AI for robots.

conceptual illustration showing various women's faces being scanned
conceptual illustration showing various women's faces being scanned

A horrifying new AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click

Deepfake researchers have long feared the day this would arrive.

pig kidney transplant surgery
pig kidney transplant surgery

Surgeons have successfully tested a pig’s kidney in a human patient

The test, in a brain-dead patient, was very short but represents a milestone in the long quest to use animal organs in human transplants.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.