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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Sustainable Apple Orchards

Apples at Scott Farm Orchard. Courtesy Kelly Carlin.

George Harvey

As we all know, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” And though that proverb apparently did not come from Benjamin Franklin, as I had thought, it has been shown by medical researchers that apples have significant health benefits. Of course, many of us would eat apples even if they were not good for us. We eat many things just because they taste good, and apples are delicious.

The Northeast is especially blessed with orchards, but Vermont stands out among the region’s states in that respect. This is not just a matter of the million bushels of apples the state produces each year. Apples are important to Vermont’s culture. The state’s official fruit is the apple. Its official pie is apple pie. And the single thing that is said to distinguish Vermonters from all other people, to the point that some believe they should have exclusive claim to the name, “Yankee,” is that real Vermonters eat apple pie for breakfast.

Here, we are celebrating the harvest. But we are not just celebrating Earth’s products; we celebrate the people who grow them, the things they believe, and the things they do.

Yates Family Orchard. Courtesy Jessika Yates.

Yates Family Orchard

Maybe we should start with Jessika Yates, who runs Yates Family Orchard in Monkton, Vermont, with her husband, Steve Yates. They bought the orchard ten years ago and have been building the business since then. That might not be a very long time to be an orchardist, but it gave Jessika a view of the business that is unique and deserves to be repeated, because it reflects on the entire industry, and perhaps on the entire state. “I am extremely grateful to the dedicated and knowledgeable people who have been willing to help us get our business started,” she said. Perhaps Vermont’s orchardists can provide an example of decent concern for the rest of the world.

The Yates Family Orchard operates on the pick-your-own model, so those of us without our own fruit trees can have harvests of our own. It has 23 varieties of apples, along with pears and plums that can be picked by visitors during the season lasting from early in September to the end of October.

The orchard’s other fruits include peaches and cherries, which are harvested during the summer, and it has raspberries. The fruit is grown using an integrated pest management system (IPM), to avoid the toxic chemicals, including even some that are allowed for organic farming. IPM manages pests by combining biological, cultural, physical, and chemical tools so as to minimize economic, health and environmental risks.

The orchard has a farm stand, where visitors can get home-made pies, crisps, and other treats, along with cider (not hard) and locally grown organic produce. The farm stand is also open in September and October.

Remarkably, Yates Family Orchard is operating as a net-zero user of electricity. On buying the orchard in 2008, Steve Yates, who works for Peck Solar in addition to being the cider maker and orchard engineer, installed a 2.66-kilowatt (kW) pole-mounted solar system. This was expanded with 2.5kW of new panels in 2011. In 2016, a battery system was added. Jessika said their home is also equipped with a solar water heating system, and she wants to install a heat pump next.

Apple picking at Scott Farm Orchard. Courtesy Kelly Carlin.

Scott Farm Orchard

Scott Farm Orchard, in Dummerston, Vermont, was settled as a farm by Rufus Scott in 1791. The orchard itself dates from 1911. In 1995, owner Fred Holbrook gifted it to the Landmark Trust USA, a non-profit organization focusing on preservation of historic sites. Scott Farm Orchard is a Certified B Corporation so it could run as a for-profit business, but still follow Landmark Trust’s mission for public benefit. The orchard sits on 571 acres and has many dozen varieties of fruit.

Scott Farm Orchard has a farm market, which operates for nine weeks, opening on Labor Day and running to the day before Thanksgiving. Its website says, “Scott Farm cultivates over 125 ecologically-grown apple varieties, to include one of the largest collection of heirloom apples in the country. As they ripen different varieties are offered in the Farm Market along with aromatic quince, peaches, plums, pears, apricots, medlars, berries, cut flowers, and pumpkins.”

Scott Farm has an event location, for weddings receptions, banquets, and celebrations. It runs workshops on growing trees and cooking with fruit. And it sells trees and other perennials for planting in the spring.

We asked orchardist Zeke Goodband about Scott Farm’s growing methods, and specifically whether it was growing apples organically. He said he believes the chemicals used for organic farming are too harsh for the environment and the orchard ecosystem. Instead, Scott Farm, like Yates Family Orchard, uses IPM. A variety of systems can be employed for this, including traps, pheromones, and other systems that are non-toxic to human beings and nearly all species found in the wild. Such a system leads to a natural diversity that can stay in balance. Goodband’s statement of the overall philosophy used at Scott Farm was, “In my opinion, growing apples organically is a marketing decision and not an ecological decision.” And, he said, “It is better to risk the crop than the customers’ safety or the employees’ health.”

I asked Goodband what had inspired him. He told me it was words of Martin Luther King, Jr., who said “When evil men plot good men must plan. When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind. When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love.”

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