Happy Valley, the Apple of my Eye

By Hye-Jin Kim

Kati Daczkowski ’18 loves apples. When she went apple picking last weekend at Happy Valley Orchards, a 16-acre apple orchard just two miles from campus, she ended up eating more apples than she actually picked.

“I love Honeycrisp apples!” she said. “The only downside of apple picking this weekend was the stomachache I got,” Daczkowski smiled. “But I still see myself going there all the time!”

Lucky for Daczkowski, and the rest of students on campus who don’t have time for daily visits to the farm, all the campus dining halls are currently stocked with both apples and fresh pressed cider from Happy Valley Orchards. The local apples are also featured in favorite dining hall desserts, such as apple crisp.

Middlebury residents Stan and Mary Pratt are the current owners of the 16-acre farm. Shortly after purchasing Happy Valley Orchards in 1998, they decided to contact Middlebury College food services for a possible supply contract.

“They were very positive and really wanted to do this,” Mary Pratt said. “They were already doing local produce with some other farms at the time, so they took us on, and we’ve been with them ever since.”

“I don’t think we would’ve even made it without the College,” she said. “It’s a big part of our business. I mean we’ve spread out now, and obviously we have the stand and we sell to the co-op but without the College, I think we’d be hurting. I really do.”

“It’s fun having a lot of students visit the farm. This fall, a lot of the sports teams came here and picked apples. During the winter, my husband is one of the [ice rink] Zamboni drivers at the College,” Pratt said. “I think we have a personal relationship with the College. And I like it because it keeps us young because we’re dealing with a lot of young kids.”

In addition to providing students with a fun weekend activity and the dining halls with crates of apples and jugs of apple cider, Happy Valley has started a new joint venture with the College this year. Small pints of the cider are now sold as concessions during football games.

“We’ve also paired with a hard cider company, called Citizen Cider, up in Burlington. We sell fresh cider to them and then they ferment it,” Pratt said.

In addition to cider, the farmstand at Happy Valley Orchards also sells home-baked goods, such as apple pies, cakes, muffins, and classic cider doughnuts. Unfortunately, none of these will be making an appearance on campus plates anytime soon.

“The donuts are a big hit, we usually run out everyday [at the farmstand],” Mary Pratt said. “My husband and his sister make the donuts and we’re not set up to do large numbers. Just doing the farmstand meets our maximum scale of production.”

“The doughnuts are incredible. Some of the best donuts I’ve ever had,” said Erin Giles ’17, whose favorite apple is Honeycrisp.

Honeycrisps are specially priced at $1.69 per pound, compared to all the other varieties of apples available (over 10!), which are $1.39 per pound. Mary Pratt explained the price difference as a result of demand.

“Honeycrisps are kind of new,” she said. They probably started in the 80’s. When you plant trees, it takes a while to get an apple. To get to production, it probably takes nine or ten years. In this country, there aren’t enough Honeycrisps [to meet demand].”

On the popular apple, Mary Pratt added. “It’s a little difficult to grow, but it does well in the Northeast,” she said. “Honeycrisp likes kind of a ‘coolness’. They do well here.”

However, the orchard’s best-selling apple isn’t Honeycrisp, but a Vermont classic, the McIntosh.

“Most people grew up with the McIntosh,” she said. “That used to be what mainly was grown in Vermont. Vermont used to sell a lot of apples to the United Kingdom. That was a big outlet [back then]. Macs are probably still the number one, but right behind are Honeycrisps.”

“Honeycrisp’s popularity is really helping us because McIntosh was beginning to lose its favor with a lot of people, especially with younger people. Now, the Honeycrisp is, in some ways, replacing it.”

Mary Pratt’s favorite apple is neither of these and probably one you haven’t seen in either Proctor or Ross.

“You know, it changes, but right now, and you’ll have to try one,” she said, as she handed me a small golden apple with a faint cherry blush, “I’d have to say it’s Vermont Gold. We only have a couple trees [in the orchard]. It was an apple that was started at UVM by a professor who’s since passed away. It’s a good apple.”

The smooth skin was thinner than a Honeycrisp, but the juicy crunch was pleasantly familiar. The flesh, though not as sweet, was refreshingly mellow and balanced. This was one good apple.