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 Stephanie Lowe of Woodman Hill Orchard in Vergennes. Learn more about the orchard and how Stephanie and Rob got involved in growing tree fruit. Join in the fun this apple season!
Coming Up: Be sure to tune into Woodman Hill's Facebook page during Vermont Open Farm Week (August 8th - 15th), where they'll be sharing more about their orchard and answering some of your burning orchard questions! Get more details here.
Please share a little bit about the history of your orchard and where it’s located.
Woodman Hill Orchard is located on (yep, you guessed it) Woodman Hill in Ferrisburgh, overlooking Vergennes. We’re just off Route 7 on Plank Road, which is opposite and slightly south of the Green Street turn into Vergennes. Most of the trees were planted in 2004 and the original owners, David and Claudia Ambrose, were Rob’s next-door neighbors growing up and friends of the family.
How did you get involved with growing tree fruit and what’s the most important thing you’ve learned along the way?
When the Ambroses decided to sell in 2016, we saw an opportunity to move near family and to live closer to the land. Since then, we’ve tried to sponge up whatever apple-knowledge the world was willing to offer. We are tremendously grateful for the resources our Vermont community has provided, including the former owners, the UVM Extension Tree Fruit Program, neighboring growers, and the Vermont Tree Fruit Growers Association. Our most important lesson so far may be this: for all the hard work and preparation, what matters most in the end is accepting and appreciating whatever Mother Nature brings us.
What is your favorite apple (or other fruit) you grow and why?
Whatever is ripe and in season! There’s nothing like the juicy crunch of a just-picked apple on a crisp fall morning or the depth of flavor in a tree-ripened peach in August. We enjoy the different flavors and textures of all our fruit and look forward to each and every one.
What do you grow and how can folks visit?
We normally offer pick-your-own (PYO) and pre-picked apples on site, as well as unpasteurized cider, handmade cider donuts (on the weekends), orchard-made jams and jellies, local maple syrup and honey, baked goods, and various other items (while supplies last, of course). It’s easy to grab and go when you’re in a hurry or spend some leisure time when you’re not. PYO customers can either grab bags at the tent or use their own, and then enjoy the nice view of the hills and mountains as they pick. Crowds are generally small so people can spread out easily. As a small operation, we do recommend calling ahead for larger orders of apples, cider, or donuts. Check out our website or Facebook page as we get closer to September for updated hours and days of the week that we’ll be open.
Having an orchard is year round work. Do you have a favorite time of the year?
The blossom period in May (usually), is an exciting time for us, especially when nice weather sets and the air is literally buzzing with all the hard-working bees. Under the right conditions it’s a stimulating mix of sights, sounds, and aromas. As with many beautiful things though, bloom is fleeting, lasting maybe a couple weeks and peaking for just a few days. It’s one more thing to look forward to while we’re pruning trees in the cold winter months.
What is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a tree fruit grower in Vermont?
We love to meet and chat with visitors while we’re open in the fall. Orchards seem to attract a friendly and laid-back clientele, perhaps because they’re a place where people can feel relaxed and active at the same time. Locals often return several times during the season, giving us a strong and gratifying sense of community.
What is one of the biggest challenges?
We both work full-time at other jobs apart from the orchard so it can be tricky finding enough hours in the day at certain times of year. Our day jobs are quite different from fruit-growing though, so we’re happy to say we never get bored!
Tell us about your crew - who are the people behind the orchard who help make it all happen?
Through most of the year we’re a two-person show but we receive invaluable help during harvest from family and a few hard-working local folks. This work has focused mainly on picking and some food prep to this point, although we plan to expand this to other functions this coming year, including some retail work. We’ve been lucky to find neighbors who genuinely enjoy picking apples, as well as excellent bakers and producers of high-quality local products.
Do you have anything new or special planned for this year that you’d like to share?
We decided this was the wrong year (2021) for a major construction project because of the wild lumber prices, but we recommend checking our website or Facebook page for updates and changes in the future.