Enjoying the Fruits of Their Labors

New England-grown strawberries are ripe for the picking. (Bar Lois Weeks)

THE NEXT FEW WEEKS are an ideal time to savor the last of the excellence of New England’s 2021 fresh apple harvest.

A number of orchard stores and grocery stores still carry a variety of crisp and flavorful apples that have been carefully maintained in storage almost since the day they were picked. Look for locally grown Cortland, Honeycrisp, Macoun, and McIntosh, among others.

During the short gap between seasons — a few varieties ripen by late July — many growers will offer a steady diet of delicious berries and tree fruit, beginning with strawberries in the coming weeks. 

A generation ago, many orchards grew nothing but apples. Some grew other tree fruits like peaches and pears. But after years like 1998, when New England lost about half of its apple crop due to poor weather during pollination, or 2016, when the entire peach crop was lost to frost, many of New England’s medium to small orchards have diversified, adding more fruits and vegetables to mitigate the impact of loss, and services like bakeries, cafes, and farm stores.

New England growers still produce a sizable amount of fruit for the wholesale market, primarily supermarkets and grocery stores. For the most part these tend to be larger orchards in rural locations where they can produce the high volume of fruit necessary to stock our stores. Some of them are in beautiful, but remote settings, lacking the population base for a robust retail operation.

Other orchards have diversified not just with crops, but with other businesses, from golf courses to weddings to farm equipment, and more recently, hard ciders with orchard tasting rooms. It’s all a part of how the New England apple industry continues to adapt to changes in its environment: with passion, resilience, and creativity.

New England-grown Stayman apples are as good as the day they were picked. (Bar Lois Weeks)

LOCALLY GROWN FRUIT is of such consistent high quality that it is easy to take the people who produce it for granted. But make no mistake: the men and women growing our fruit are exceptional gardeners on an epic scale. Many have agricultural degrees, some have never left the orchard, and collectively they are among our best environmental stewards.

They generally eschew the limelight — they haven’t got time! Growing fruit is a lifestyle, not a job. There is something to be done — or that could be done — every day of the year. Producing acres and acres of beautiful fruit requires a carefully considered sequence of steps that must be improvised daily to meet the constantly changing patterns of weather and climate.

Despite the many challenges, for most orchardists, growing flavorful, nutritious apples, peaches, plums, pears, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and more is a labor of love. So when you bite into the last locally grown apples or prepare your first strawberry shortcake of the season, you can take an extra measure of enjoyment knowing that the fruit has been raised with care.

To find out what is available and where, check out our Orchard Finder. Happy picking!