Throughout the summer and fall, Vermonters and visitors alike flock to our local orchards in pursuit of fresh fruit like cherries, plums, pears, and tasty apples, plus cider, donuts, and more! But who are the folks who grow these delicious fruits? And what goes on behind the scenes? Find out with DigInVT!
We recently heard from Greg Burtt of Burtt's Apple Orchard in Cabot. Learn more about Greg's story and find out what being an apple grower means to him!
Please share a little bit about the history of your orchard and where it’s located.
We started planting our orchard in 2005 when I was 19. Our farm had been a dairy and maple farm for many years - selling milk to Cabot Creamery. My parents and I felt like trying something different - apples seemed like a good idea. We opened for picking in 2009 with a few acres of young trees and sold all our apples in just two weeks. That meant it was time to plant more. Now, apple picking at our orchard has become a tradition for many families in our area.
How did you get involved with growing tree fruit and what’s the most important thing you’ve learned along the way?
Wild apples grow everywhere around our region. We grew up playing games throwing apples at each other as kids - even picking them and trying to sell some to neighbors on the roadside. I got a job after high school working at an orchard and began to fall in love with growing apples and tending to them the right way. In my short tenure I've learned that you never stop learning, orcharding amongst others.
What is your favorite apple (or other fruit) you grow and why?
St. Edmund's Russet is my favorite apple because of the complexity of flavor and it's meaty flesh. I describe it as a combination of a Snickers bar and Sour Patch Kids. It's also one of those fleeting ones. There is probably a two day window where it can be picked at just the right flavor, and then it becomes more pear-like in taste.
What do you grow and how can folks visit?
When you come to our orchard, you can pick from over 40 varieties of apples. Not all of them are ripe at the same time so some folks come two or three times to try different apples. We give all our customers a map and a list of all the varieties describing flavors and unique attributes. We also have a farmstand with our own cider, cider donuts, pre-picked apples, cider slushies, pumpkins, sweet corn, and a few other goodies. U-pick pumpkins are also popular at our orchard and we even have tart cherries for picking in late July. Along with picking, we have some fun things to do. There's the golden apple hunt where if you find a golden apple, you get a free cider donut. We have a free apple slingshot, corn maze, and playground, too.
What is your favorite thing to make with your apples or other fruit?
I enjoy making cider. It's always fun to see how the flavor turns out because each batch that we make has a unique blend of apples. We usually try to mix a couple varieties, but it's fun sometimes to try one variety and learn what flavors are imparted to the juice.
Having an orchard is year round work. Do you have a favorite time of the year?
My favorite time of year at the orchard is definitely the fall...the energy that comes from families and kids showing up to pick and all the conversations. Enjoying the bounty of the harvest is a special time.
What is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a tree fruit grower in Vermont?
I think that being able to share the experience of the harvest with so many good people and see it become a tradition that brings families and friends together makes growing apples in Vermont extremely rewarding. I like being involved in the full circle from sun and soil to cider slushies in the hands of kids.
What has surprised you the most?
One day it hit me when I took a moment to breathe in and look up from my hard work. I saw people walking around with smiles on their faces and armfuls of apples. I never thought our farm would become special to other people. But somehow it has.
What is one of the biggest challenges?
Challenges...there's a long list. I have to be good at a lot of things to make it all come together. I may love farming, but if I don't do a good job with accounting and tend to the business end of things, I may not farm for a living anymore. And I have to be people oriented. Not only for the sake of our customers, but for our employees and those who help out as well.
Tell us about your crew - who are the people behind the orchard who help make it all happen?
We hire as many as 20 part time employees on in the fall. Most work weekends and are in high school or in transition and can work seasonally. Quite a few have come back year after year now and it makes it really fun. Some of the high schoolers have graduated and we've gotten to know them pretty well. It's hard to say goodbye. Our core crew are a few moms and friends that have worked for a number of years. They manage the farm stand, make donuts and cider, and really help us pull through the busy times.
Do you have anything new or special planned for this year that you’d like to share?
This year we don't have anything too new and crazy happening. We built a new farmstand last year and we will be building a new playground this year!