“Community Orcharding” Network Helps Guide Consumers to Organic & Local Apples

Honest Weight Food Co-op sells Northland Organic Gala apples (packed by Ricker Orchards in Turner, Maine)

Holistic Orchard Network’s directory of orchards led this apple lover to purchase a bushel of organic Empires from Hemlock Grove Farm in West Danby (Tompkins County, NY)

Hemlock Grove Farm’s primary organic apple orchard is unmarked and a few miles from the farmhouse & in the 2nd week of October, trees laden with fruit

Later in the season, GreenStar food co-op in Ithaca is likely to have Hemlock Grove Farm’s organic apples available for its customers

The Ithaca food co-op currently had available for customers, local apples from Black Diamond Farm including the heritage variety Zabergau Reinette and the uncommon pink fleshed Pink Pearls

GreenStar’s painted pie-charts on an outside wall is a mini lesson on the economics of the modern industrial food system (click on photo to enlarge)

Local cheeses purchased at the Honest Weight, Tarentaise from Spring Brook Farm (Reading, Vermont); Berlberg Organic from Berle Farm (Hoosick, NY); Karst Alpine Cheddar, Cave Aged   at Jasper Hill Farm (Greensboro, VT), and Dharma Lea Dutch crafted by Grafton Village Cheese (Grafton, VT) for Maple Hill to complement the tasting of Hemlock Grove’s Organic Empires and two Adams Pearmain (an added bonus thanks to the farm’s Jennifer) and the Black Diamond Farm’s Zabergau Reinette and Pink Pearl apples

For five years in a row, from 2011 to 2015, apples were Number One on the dirty dozen list of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables to avoid compiled by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). But in 2016, strawberries displaced apples as the Number One conventionally grown fruit and vegetable to avoid. And in 2017 and again this year in 2018, apples drifted lower to Number 4 on EWG’s dirty dozen list.

Nonetheless, either number one, two, or four on the dirty dozen list, when apple season comes around, the search for organic apples (and hopefully local) begins anew for this apple lover. In recent years, I relied on my hometown Honest Weight Food Co-op as a source for Northland organic apples packed by Ricker Hill Orchard located in Turner, Maine. Not so local to my home in upstate NY, but not as far away as the other organic apples available at the Albany, NY co-op from the Pacific Northwest.

But this fall, I relied on the Grow Organic Apples Holistic Orchard Network’s Orchard List, which provided leads on five apple orchards in upstate New York as a source for this season’s apples to stock two shelves of the kitchen fridge. [Michael Phillips of Groveton, New Hampshire (the author of The Holistic Orchard, Growing Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way) serves as the Network Coordinator.]

Two of the upstate New York orchards were in Ulster County (Westwind Orchard in Accord and High Falls Farm in High Falls) and one in Dutchess County (Breezy Hill Orchard in Staatsburg, south of Rhinebeck), and one (not organic but utilizing low-spray techniques and micronutrient fertilization practices) in Saratoga County (Saratoga Apple in Schuylerville).

But the apple orchard which meant the longest drive from home, Hemlock Grove Farm, south of Ithaca in West Danby (Tompkins County) sparked a special interest because on its website, it spotlighted its Apple CSA. As a long term shareholder in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm in the Hudson Valley, and a promoter of CSA farms in North America and Great Britain on this website, supporting an apple orchard, which was utilizing a CSA model to distribute a large part of its organic apple harvest, was an appealing proposition. So I decided to purchase a bushel of Hemlock Grove Farm’s apples this fall season.

With a home in Albany, 170 miles from Hemlock Grove Farm, a CSA Apple share was certainly not a possibility. Weekly pick-ups of the apple share are available on Fridays and Saturdays at the farm and seven other locations in Ithaca and nearby areas in Tompkins County. But how appealing it would be to receive 5 pounds (1/2 peck) of Hemlock Grove Farm’s fresh organic apples every week (that would be 30 pounds of apples over 6 weeks) until Thanksgiving for a very reasonable $64.00. The orchard also offers 2 half gallons of fresh sweet cider at an additional cost of $15.

In lieu of a CSA apple share, I arranged by email to purchase a select grade bushel (weighing 38 pounds) of apples for pick up at the farm for $75 or $1.93 per pound. Select grade, meaning perfect, supermarket quality fruit were described as great for eating out of hand and as lasting the longest in storage. The farm also offered utility grade apples with minor blemishes but still great eating quality for $55 per bushel, $1.45 per pound. Unpacking my bushel of apples on returning home, I counted 140 apples. A delicious organic upstate New York apple for 50 cents or so seemed a very fair bargain.

Hemlock Grove Farm’s website also notes that ordering bushels from the farm or arranging for an CSA apple share weren’t the only way to buy its apples. During apple season, the farm’s apples are also available by the pound at Ithaca’s GreenStar Co-op. But at the time of my visit to the farm, the co-op did not yet have any of the farm’s apples available. As the apple season proceeds, they will very likely become available at GreenStar too.

Before starting the drive back home, stopping at Ithaca’s GreenStar Co-op, one of the longest operating food co-ops in upstate New York and open to the public like my hometown Honest Weight Food Co-op, was in order. With a bushel of Empire variety organic apples from Hemlock Grove farm in the cooler in my car, I hesitated for a moment but decided to purchase a half dozen apples of the “heritage” varieties available at Green Star from Black Diamond Farm, which practices IFP (integrated fruit production) according to its website in Trumansburg (Tompkins County). But for my apple or two or three a day for the next couple of months, Hemlock Grove Farm’s organic apples will be enjoyed with much satisfaction.

(Frank W. Barrie, 10/18/18)

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