In Memoriam: Frank Carlson

Frank was a man of many talents and interests (2011). (Bar Lois Weeks)

NEW ENGLAND LOST a giant of the apple world March 31 with the passing of Frank Carlson, age 79. He was a man of immense talent and extraordinary kindness. If you never met Frank, you still may have tasted his family’s cider, fresh or hard, or attended the orchard’s annual peach festival. 

As one of the biggest producers of cider in the region, Carlson’s cider is sold at many New England stores, and New England Apple Association features only Carlson Orchards cider in its booth in the Massachusetts Building at the Eastern States Exposition (“The Big E”) every September.

Frank managed the family farm in Harvard, Massachusetts, begun in 1936 by his parents, with his two brothers, Bruce, who maintains the orchard, and the late Bobby, who hauled cider or apples wherever needed.

Frank had his hand in everything. He was brilliant, forward-thinking, generous, and kind. He was always coming up with new ideas. The family orchard, like Frank, never stood still, continually evolving: solar panels in 2010; hard ciders in 2017; and the Cider Barn in 2020, an impressive new tasting room overlooking the orchard.

When the cider business outgrew the orchard’s pressing capabilities in 2011, Carlson’s partnered with New England Apple Products in Leominster to meet the growing demand.

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AN HOUR WITH FRANK was a gift. His mind never stopped, and he was adept at multitasking long before the term entered the mainstream.

A four-way conversation for Frank was not unusual. While telling me about the state of the orchard, he would take a phone call from someone looking for peaches for their farm stand; a moment later he would give instructions to a worker; then daughter Katie would run out with a question from the store.

He never missed a beat, each time picking up our conversation where it left off. No matter how busy he was, he always made time for others.

Frank visits the New England Apple Association booth at the Big E, Sept. 25, 2014. (Bar Lois Weeks)

Apple growing in New England can be challenging, but Frank rarely sounded down, even when his health began to decline.

Two summers ago, though, I visited the orchard to get the latest about the crop. Orderly rows of trees fanned out in every direction as we headed out behind the modest retail store and adjoining apple barn, a sea of green.

By then Frank breathed through an oxygen tube attached to a metal cannister that sat between us on his Gator. It didn’t seem to slow him down.

But when I asked how things were going, he shook his head and answered dourly, “I don’t think we could give this farm away.” 

Yet from that moment a 45-minute stream of conversation began about apples and agriculture, interrupted only to examine a piece of fruit here, inspect an irrigation line there, or shout out something to brother Bruce, planting a row of young trees.

When we were done circling through the blocks of peaches, Frank turned to me, all smiles, and said, “Just another year in the orchard!”

So raise a toast of Carlson cider, fresh or hard, for a great man who devoted his life to growing healthy fruit in his beloved New England soil.

Brothers Frank, Bobby, and Bruce Carlson, 2017. (Bar Lois Weeks)
Frank Carlson inspects a young tree. (Bar Lois Weeks)

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FRANK WAS ALWAYS CURIOUS and exuded a love of life. With spring bloom just weeks away, what better time to celebrate Frank and his life’s work with this short video from 2011, in which he explains pollination?

Frank was happiest in the family orchard brimming with fresh fruit (2015). (Russell Steven Powell)


  • Karen Seremet

    Sounds like such a great man. So sorry for his family and friends. Beautiful story. Thanks for sharing.

  • Kathleen Farina

    Interesting article and I liked the video on pollination. I’m sure Frank will be greatly missed. Thanks for sharing..

  • Katie Carlson

    Thank you Russ for an amazing article! He will definitely be missed but never forgotten!

  • Bill Broderick

    Thanks for doing this Russel, VERY Well done.
    This is the first and only kind of Memorial that I am aware of.
    My understanding is that there will be a celebration of LIFE the first weekend of May.

    • Russell Powell

      The first weekend in May is right, Bill. I don’t know the specifics yet but I am sure they will be announced soon. See you there.