‘Beaten up but not beaten’

Three Windham County orchards report the loss of almost all their apples, other crops

As a headline in the June 7 issue of The Commons reported, "Hard-hit Windham County farms hope for federal relief for an overnight devastating loss of fruit, berry, and vegetable crops."

Beneath a close-up photo of brown and shriveled buds on trees at Green Mountain Orchards in Putney, a caption elaborated: "Apple buds in orchards throughout Windham County and Vermont were damaged by freezing temperatures overnight on May 17–18, destroying much of this year's crop."

The Commons reached out to three local farms for updates on how they are faring after the apple crop devastation earlier this year. Here are their updates.

Simon Renault, general manager, Scott Farm Orchard, Dummerston: "It's a challenging year for us! We had a freeze on May 18, and it was a perfect storm, because the apples were at the end of bloom - the stage where trees begin the development of apples - the worst possible time. They were just a few millimeters in size. Everything froze, and we lost 90% of the crop!

"We lost the cherry crop - peaches and plums, too. We have 12 varieties of plums. In February, there were very low temperatures and the wind chill went to –38. That is too cold for the stone fruit; they all died.

"On a good year, we harvest 14,000 bushels, so 90% of that was lost. The way our business is designed, we do a lot of wholesale throughout New England. We have 130 different varieties of apples. It is very special fruit, and very few commercial orchards have a collection like ours. We send our fruit to food co-ops and specialty stores, and it's a big loss for a lot of people. The bulk of our income comes from that.

"This year, 1,000 bushels is what we are left with. It's still enough to make cider here. At our farm we can still sell apples and cider."

Scott Farm is a for-profit business whose parent organization is the Landmark Trust USA which is a non-profit historic preservation organization. Its farmstand is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and its café, which serves sandwiches, hard cider, and farm-baked goods, is open Thursday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Read Miller, owner, Dwight Miller Orchards, Dummerston: "Most of the apple crop was devastated by the late May frost. We are beaten up, but we are not beaten.

"We've been through things before and we've found ways to work through. We are keeping our heads and emotions looking forward. We can't get caught up in the emotion of being taken down by something like this.

"The best way the community can help us is to visit the farm and/or a farmstand. We have apples. The thing that really benefits these orchards is to go out and support your local orchard by buying apples, fruit pies, or blueberries, so that we can continue to provide these services."

Andrea Darrow, co-owner, Green Mountain Orchards, Putney: "We have 85 acres of apple trees and 18 acres of blueberries. This year we only have 5–10% of an apple crop left that we can harvest.

"We are very sad. It's the first time ever that we can't offer pick-your-own-apples. We're worried about what it is going to do for families who want to come and pick your own. It's become a more and more of a fall family pastime.

"We didn't have peaches or plums, too, this year. Blueberries did well, and we are thankful for that.

"We are thankful for all of the community support. We will be trying to stay open through Christmas with our cider, pies, and doughnuts. We have enough apples that are good-enough quality for sales in our farm store."

Green Mountain Orchards' farm store is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week, through the end of October.

This The Arts item by Victoria Chertok was written for The Commons.

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