A look into orchard life through the lens of lady Farmer Brooke
“We have a fraction of the apples as we did last year” were the first words out of Ben’s mouth yesterday morning at 6am. I tried to extract the gravity and reason behind his statement over the clanking of breakfast making and lunch packing for our littles (kinder and pre-school). As husband-wife business partners , AND expectant parents of our third child due in six weeks, small talk over morning coffee consists of snippets of orchard updates in the same breath of “don’t forget your OB appointment, it’s picture day, and you’re in charge of the Karate carpool!” Here’s a shot of our preschooler (and 4th generation), Henry, out inspecting the Ginger Gold harvest:
“Mother nature has not been kind to us.” I’ve heard that statement every season since uprooting my brood from the Arizona desert three years ago to take up this fruit growing thing. 16 hours later after a full day managing the farm, putting the littles to sleep, and un-packing the smelly karate clothes, Ben and I finally get a quiet moment to finish the conversation. “It’s a combination of the spring frost we saw during Spring Bloom, lack of summer rains, and bi-annual bearing cycles.” Ah-ha. I knew the fruit was coming in small this year because of the dry summer, but did not even think the spring frost affected the apple yields in the same devastation as the stone fruits (homegrown Crest Haven peaches pictured below were the cream of the peach crop this summer).
My brain immediately goes to how this affects our business: First thought is more small apples for our Farm to School program, which is a PRO. Our customer base has grown in this segment from ~15 local (Erie County – Cuyahoga County) school districts to upwards of 26. This ability to scale is a direct result of the resources that have stemmed from our partnership with the Cuyahoga County Board of Health and the USDA Farm to School Grant Project we are currently funded under. This is a snapshot of the corner of our cooler the day before our Wholesale and Farm to School deliveries are scheduled:
Second thought (not mine; credit goes to our pack-house manager, Becky): reduced variety in our holiday apple gift box that typically includes 12 different apple varieties (with a corresponding stamped map and flavor profile, see photo below), and this season we’ll be lucky to have 5 or 6. Good thing I’m having a baby this holiday season and the “sparse orchard” is not compromising a huge portion of revenue I’ve slated for Corporate Gifting (yes, we’ll still have gifts for sale!).
Varieties that were impacted? I cringe just even thinking about it: Honey Crisp, Crimson Crisp, Goldrush, Pink Lady, Granny Smith, Suncrisp, and Cameo. The more robust varieties that stood up to the weather are the Reds and Golden Delicious. The “Red Riding Hood Red” colored apples pictured just beyond the humongous Spy Golds in the foreground are the Crimsons – my favorite! If this table looks familiar, you are a loyal customer at the Saturday Shaker Square Farmers Market.
Not to worry: we DO have an apple harvest, the apples ARE delicious, and we STILL have Pick-Your-Own. The crews are out daily harvesting bins after bins of Blondee, Gala, Honeycrisp, Golden Supreme, McIntosh, Jonathan, and Cortland. Our harvest dates are pretty much on schedule this year despite the “sparseness”. Here is ONE morning’s work of harvesting the Honeycrisp from ONE of many Honeycrisp blocks in our 90-acre apple orchards (we don’t grow all the Honeycrisp in the same place – the tractor and the crews have to trek all over the farm to get these guys in the barn – one of many reasons for the high price tag):
“We still have PLENTY to harvest and PLENTY of apples” was the comforting conclusion to our late night discussion. Our 2nd annual APPLE PEAK event happening on October 15th will be the best opportunity to taste the full variety of our harvest, including the Crimsons, Suncrisps, and unique varieties that are not as prolific this season. Top 5 things to do at Apple Peak this year:
- Pick-Your-Own Apples
- Go for a hike in Edison Woods
- Sip on some hot cider and soak up some local tunes by Cleveland’s own Brent Kirby
- Snack on some local apple-wood fired pizza from Cleveland’s Nelly Belley food truck
- Get your family photo taken for this season’s Christmas Card (here’s the Gammie card from last year):