There are two important things to convey about our beloved Scott Farm Orchard.
First, Scott Farm Orchard has incredible heirloom apples right now! Buy them, go visit them, eat in their café, and drink their cider.
Second, when shopping for apples, although you’re probably accustomed to looking for the Organic seal to identify the safest and most delicious fruit, look for EcoCertified when it comes to our local apples and stone fruits. That’s how you know you’re protecting bees and pollinators, building soil health, and getting the most environmentally friendly and healthiest local fruit. Read on for further explanation!
I’m assuming most of you know, but just in case you don’t: on May 18th this past spring, the temperature dipped to 25 degrees for four or five hours overnight after a string of unusually hot days earlier in the season. Simon Renault, General Manager at Scott Farm, explained that it was not a frost but a freeze. The fruitlets can withstand frost, but a freeze, no. They’re too delicate during petal fall, or the late bloom stage. They were just starting to grow—delicate, tiny little infantile apples. It was going to be a mast year (lots of apples, a bumper crop). Only ten percent survived.
But don’t despair. Scott Farm grows over half a million pounds, or 12,000 bushels of apples, in a typical year, and ten percent of half a million pounds is still quite a lot of apples! You’ll find a selection here at the BFC (in fact, our Co-op is the only shop outside their on-site Farm Market selling their apples this year). And if you take a trip to the orchard (do it!), you’ll find even more of an abundance of apples to choose from. Many of the fruitlets that survived were a bit scarred by the freeze, which has affected their appearance, but they taste just as amazing as always. They just have a little more character!
Another thing to celebrate: for the last couple years, Simon has led Scott Farm in putting some liquid gold in the bank. They’re now a licensed manufacturer of hard cider, and last year was the biggest brew year of all. Simon grew up in Brittany, France, where every family homestead makes their own cider with great pride, and he is still very passionate about coming up with recipes and using methods that will bring out the incredible flavors of the unusual varieties they’re using, which have been grown especially to make these ciders. Since the beginning of the hard-cider venture, Scott Farm has also been partnering with Kobey Shwayder from Vermont Vermouth to help with fermentation and launching the business.
The orchard makes three varieties of hard cider. Chez Mémé and Kingston Black are both naturally aged, French-style ciders, created through an artisanal process called “keeving.” This means they’re aged at a low temperature for a long time (six months), and they’re wild fermented—nothing is added besides apples, not even water. This is particularly thrilling because it means that only our local environment is responsible for all the flavors within, and our southern Vermont terroir can fully express itself through them. In Chez Mémé, apple flavor is very present; it’s somewhat dry and citrusy, and it’s sparkling, a bit like champagne. A traditional English variety of cider apples called Kingston Black is used to create a single varietal of the same name. This one has an earthy flavor with tinier bubbles.
They also produce a rosé-style cider from Redfield apples, a red-fleshed cider variety. This one has yeast added during fermentation, and then it’s aged in oak barrels. It’s quite fruity and dry, without bubbles, and includes flavor notes of tropical flowers. In fact, it’s even been mistaken for an actual rosé in taste tests.
In any year, shepherding the apples from their beginnings as tiny green babies to their final full, heavy sweetness is more like building a Swiss watch than tending to the needs of a tree. Each of the approximately 130 varieties grown at the farm has its own strengths and weaknesses and must be constantly monitored for a healthy harvest. I learned that apples naturally have a biennial cycle of growth. While many of the more common varieties we see have been bred to be more consistent, when it comes to heirloom apples, if a tree bears a lot of fruit one year (a mast year), the next year it rests, producing little or nothing. Much of the work of cultivating at Scott Farm or any apple orchard lies in managing that cyclical pattern and trying to even it out as much as possible. Each year, very early in the season, every single little apple is sprayed with just the right amount of an acidic substance that, as Head Orchardist Erin Robinson put it, “stresses the tree out” a bit so that only one apple, the king bloom, remains on a given branch. Where a cluster of five apples would grow around this king blossom, the hope is that only the king will remain so that the following year, the tree will have enough energy to produce another bountiful crop. A single apple will grow to be considerably larger than two to three apples in the cluster would have grown to be, and larger apples are worth more on the shelf. The trees are also pruned extensively. Erin quoted an old saying that you should be able to throw a cat through the branches.
The orchard is carefully treated for each potential health threat in the safest, most ecologically sound way possible using Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, which is part of the EcoCertified program mentioned above. It’s as if Q from the James Bond movies invented unique 007-style gadgets particular to each pest. For instance, one damaging critter is lured to a fake apple covered with super-sticky glue that attracts them through its bright red color. Another flying insect is confused by a pheromone, which is sprayed throughout the orchard in order to interrupt their mating cycle and stop them from reproducing. This technique, known as “mating disruption,” is an alternative to using an insecticide. Instead of herbicide, the grass around the base of the trees is carefully mown to prevent problems that can start in taller weeds.
EcoCertified and Organic Apples
Organic apple certification is a one-size-fits-all approach that, unfortunately, doesn’t fit our climate. In Washington state, which is by far the top producer of organic apples in the US, it’s a lot easier because they have so much less disease and pest pressure due to the irrigated desert environment—it’s extremely dry there. Here in the humid Northeast, we deal with over sixty pests that either don’t exist in Washington or don’t become a major threat to apples. When our local orchards try to fit in the certified organic system, their options for warding off diseases and pests are incredibly limited. Specifically, they must rely heavily on sulfur and copper as their primary tools to combat apple disease and other issues. So heavily, in fact, that in some cases, it can negatively impact the orchard ecosystem or pose a health threat to farmworkers.
EcoCertified grew out of a need for an equally robust certification that considers our region’s climate. It’s a nonprofit, research-driven system that supports bees and pollinators, boosts soil health, and produces delicious, healthy fruit. It was developed with the support of an impressive network of entomologists, plant pathologists, horticulturists, agronomists, and weed scientists from Cornell, UMass, UConn, URI, UMaine, Penn State, Rutgers, Appalachian Fruit Research Station, and other institutions. EcoCertification includes many targeted tactics like the ones described above and emphasizes building the orchard ecosystem to support beneficial insects and other predators. It also involves a LOT of data collection. They have a weather station in the middle of the orchard connected to software at Cornell University that, through complex models and algorithms, knows if and when they need to spray for certain things within very specific windows, even within the next few hours. And in addition to their own skilled observation, Scott Farm hires a professional scout to come once a week to look for evidence of pests and diseases. Using these methods, they’re able to know as early as possible what’s coming and head it off at the pass using the gentlest tactics possible. For more information on the EcoCertified Fruit Program, visit redtomato.org/eco/
Erin Robinson, the head orchardist since 2020, has been in one way or another living and breathing Scott Farm for her entire life. She grew up just a half mile away as the crow flies, and currently lives just up the road in Dummerston’s original schoolhouse with her two sons. She has worked at the farm for almost twenty years and in the orchard for about half that time, and has become not only a jack-of-all-trades but also one of the main storehouses of historical information. It was pretty amazing to witness her knowledge in action. In engineer’s overalls and with tan, tattooed arms, she is not showy about the fact that she’s a walking encyclopedia, and is quick to point out that she has a team of mentors and consultants supporting her and helping her make the choices that keep the trees healthy and productive week to week. But she knows every inch of the orchard like the back of her hand.
The delicious harvests also rely extensively on the expertise of the seasonal H2A harvest crew. H2A is the visa that allows people from other countries to come to the US for temporary agricultural work. Every year, between July and November, workers from Jamaica travel to the orchard for the season. Most of Scott Farm’s harvest crew have been making this annual trip for ten to fifteen years or longer. Like Erin, the skill and knowledge they’ve developed over the years keeps the orchard’s heart pumping. They know all the subtle yet precise variations of timing for harvesting all these different fruits. The level of detail is such that even the same type of apple could have a different ripening time if it’s in a different row of trees! Back home in Jamaica, they continue their trade, except instead of apples, they grow bananas and other tropical fruits, which get sold at local farm stands in Jamaica, just as Scott Farm’s apples are usually sold locally here in New England. A small number of local seasonal farm workers also come on each year. Unfortunately, Scott Farm had to hire fewer people overall because of the freeze, and those who are here have less work to do. But there’s still a lot to be done to keep the orchard healthy and to be ready for next year.
November 30th, 1727: The first visit to Dummerston by a white colonist is recorded. Colonel Joseph Kellogg tells in his journal of his scouting party’s trip from nearby Fort Dummer to the top of Black Mountain to survey the country for Abenaki smoke signals.
–From the Dummerston Historical Society website timeline,
For around ten to fifteen thousand years before this country’s colonization, native peoples lived in the area now known as Dummerston and all of Vermont. Scott Farm’s history starts mere decades after this first recorded colonial visitation, in 1791, when the first white family to live there began to farm its land. They grew food and raised animals, and who knows, perhaps they grew the then-popular Maiden’s Blush apple, a lovely, sweet, tender American variety dating back to this era. When apples were an essential part of a family’s winter food supply, almost every farm had one or two Maiden trees; this variety is grown at the orchard today. In the early 1900s, the property was purchased by the Holbrook family. They created an innovative and forward-thinking orchard, growing then-new varieties like Macintosh and shipping them all over the country—they were one of the first orchards to use refrigeration and mail order, and even have a patent on a special shipping crate. Two generations later, the entire Scott Farm property was gifted to The Landmark Trust USA so that its history could be preserved and accessible to those who want to experience it.
“We grow interesting fruit that comes with a story, and we love to share that story.” Today, Simon’s words resonate beyond the historical context of the apples and the land they’re grown on. We’re in the chapter that includes weather patterns disrupted by climate change. But with incredible developments in agricultural systems like the ones EcoCertified utilizes, the determination of the Scott Farm Orchard’s team, and the support of our Co-op and our community, abundance and deliciousness surely lie ahead!
Hard Cider Tasting! Thursday, Oct. 12, 2:30-5:30 pm
By Ruth Garbus