As the leaves start to change and the school year kicks into full gear, students and locals alike have the opportunity to celebrate the fall at the many apple orchards that exist throughout the state of Vermont. Whether your forte is picking apples, shopping at farm stands or consuming ciders and donuts, Vermont apple orchards will not disappoint in the activities and products that they offer.
Not far from the college, Happy Valley Orchard in Middlebury grows about 50 varieties of apples in their 14-acre orchard. They have the basics, like Cortland and Macintosh, but they also have a number of heirloom apples and other varieties, all available for picking.
“We don’t limit where you can pick,” Mary Pratt, co-owner of Happy Valley Orchard told The Campus. “You can pick anywhere in the orchard you want, and we are unique in that every row of trees has more than one variety of apple in it since we’re a small orchard.”
The orchard also boasts a variety of trees that should fit the needs of all visitors to Happy Valley.
“We have a lot of big trees here,” Pratt explained. “We have some that are probably over 50 years old so they’re huge. We also have some small trees, but since we’re ‘pick your own,’ people do like the big trees.”
From September to November, Happy Valley Orchard is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. In addition to picking your own apples, the business also has a farm stand on site, at which customers can purchase things like cider, pumpkins, gourds, mums and donuts.
“We are noted for cider donuts,” Pratt emphasized.
Pratt said that Happy Valley has a cider mill, where they make their own fresh cider. Because of this, customers can purchase untreated cider, meaning that “it’s raw and it hasn’t had anything done to it.” The orchard sells their cider elsewhere as well. Selling cider wholesale, outside of the business requires a UV light process, according to Pratt.
“Right now, we press all of the cider for a hard cider company up in Burlington called Citizen Cider, so that keeps us pretty busy,” Pratt added.
Happy Valley is planning a big event called Cider Fest on Oct. 7 that they will host right at the orchard from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.
“We combine with Citizen Cider and we have music, food trucks, we do apple tasting, we usually have fresh cider samples, and Drop-In Brewery will be here selling their cider and beer,” Pratt said.
Although owning an orchard is not an easy task, Pratt noted that she and her husband find joy in the challenges and successes.
“This is something that we really enjoy doing,” Pratt said.
A slightly longer drive from campus, Shelburne Orchards offers “pick your own” apples as well. They are open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. Their website advertises the McIntosh and Gala apples that they have for picking, and notes that Honey Crisps will be coming soon.
In addition to apples, the orchard also has a store with their own distilled apple brandy, non-alcoholic Ginger Jack, cider and fresh cider donuts. The orchard celebrates the season with a number of apple-related events as well. This Sunday, Sept. 24, Shelburne Orchards will host its 16th annual Pie Fest, which will consist of an apple pie baking contest, pie eating and live music. For Vermonters looking for apples and cider in large quantities, Shelburne Orchards will also host a Truckload and Hard Cider Weekend on Oct. 14 and 15, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. where attendees can pay to fill their cars and trucks up with apples.
Other orchards, such as Sunrise Orchards in Cornwall, set themselves apart in that most of their work is done behind the scenes to create products that their consumers enjoy. Chris Hodges of Sunrise Orchards shared in an email to The Campus that their orchard is 200 acres and that they grew a number of different apples, such as McIntosh, Empire, Cortland, Honey Crisp, Paula Red, Macoun, Red Delicious and Granny Smith.
“The Vermont climate lends itself well to apple growing with hot summers and cool, sun-filled autumns that redden the fruit during its last stages of growth,” noted Hodges in her email.
Although customers cannot pick their own apples at Sunrise Orchards, they can enjoy them once the orchard begins the harvesting and selling season around mid-August. Sunrise Orchards sells its apples in stores all over Vermont, New Hampshire and New York. The orchard also ensures continued distribution throughout the year, as they refrigerate and store around half of their crop for just that purpose.
Sunrise Orchards prides itself on the quality of its fruit, land and growing practices. People at the orchard work with Red Tomato, which is a non-profit organization that focuses on ecological growing processes.
“We are part of a group of growers from around the New England region who adhere to strict growing practices that emphasize the health of our soils, waterways and workers, and encourages beneficial insect species in the control of pests,” Hodges emphasized.
For anyone interested in taking advantage of Vermont’s helpful apple-growing climate, these three orchards are a good place to start looking, but they are not the only apple growers in Vermont. For a more thorough listing of apple orchards, places to pick and apple events in Vermont, take a look at vermontapples.org. Happy picking!