Scott Douglas, an owner at Douglas Orchards in Shoreham, Vt., trucks a crate of fresh apples for documented Jamaican harvest workers to sort.
In Addison County, Vt., the Town of Shoreham is king of the hill when it comes to apple orchards. And this year, in spite of local hailstorms, torrential rains, and a calamitous tropical storm, the apple harvest is better than most growers expected.
At Champlain Orchards in Shoreham, owner William Suhr reported that the 2011 harvest was above average. Established a century ago, Champlain Orchards was purchased by Shure in 1998.
“We had poor weather during pollination time, so we decided to let the apples grow. That turned out to be good,” he said.
Shure said his orchard has produced 120,000 bushels of apples this season with an added bonus—for the first time, the orchard is distributing 10 percent of its crop throughout northeastern U.S. markets via the Eco Apple Program sponsored by wholesale distributor Red Tomato of Boston.
In addition to Shure’s eclectic crop of European plums, peaches and pears, even his organic onions got a sweet break in 2011.
“We had a bumper onion crop this year,” he reported.
Shur was ready to go with apples, cider and more in preparation for the annual Shoreham Apple Festival and Tour de Farms bicycle event.
Across town, at Douglas Orchards, owners Scott and Bob Douglas—great grandsons of the orchard’s 1898 founder Frank Douglas—were busy overseeing Jamaican workers sorting apples from stacks of wooden crates.
Four generations of Douglas’ have kept the picturesque orchard going even with over a century of market ups and downs and a smorgasbord of weather, good and foul—from late spring frosts to multiple hurricanes.
“We had hail in June, rain in August and of course some tropical storm damage, but still, we have a harvest,” said Scott Douglas.
While not the orchard’s best harvest on record, the Douglas’ were never the less pleased despite Mother Nature’s obstacles thrown in their way.
“In addition to the hail knocking out apples, the ground was wet and we lost some trees,” he said. “But we’re busy now.”
In Rutland County, the harvest story was different.
At Mendon Mountain Orchards—established in the 1920s along U.S. Route 4 just east of Rutland—Tropical Storm Irene was a sour ending to a bittersweet season.
“Well, we had light pollination in the spring due to rain,” said owner Millie Steingrass. “And of course we lost some apples when Irene blew through—even lost part of our orchard road to the flood, but amazingly we didn’t lose any trees. I’d have to say it’s a light harvest this year. But our shop is open with lots of goodies, and pick-your-own apple time is underway now.”
In Windsor County, Wellwood Orchards in Springfield—just like Steingrass’ Mendon Mountain Orchards—dates to the 1920s, the golden era of apple orchards in vermont.
Wellwood owner Roy Mark, who purchased the multi-acre operation in 1981, said he was happy to have escaped the wrath of Irene.
“Irene wasn’t too bad here,” Mark said. “So we have a pretty good harvest. Like most Vermont orchards we didn’t have good pollination due to the spring rains, but it wasn’t serious.”
While there were other orchard owners with their own perspectives on the 2011 harvest, the consensus seemed to be that—at least for apple growers from Addison to Windsor counties—most orchards dodged a major bullet—a bullet named Irene.
Douglas family members work alongside documented Jamaican migrant workers to bring in and distribute the 2011 apple harvest at Douglas Orchards in Shoreham.
Photo by Lou Varricchio