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Monday, May 16, 2022

Apples, Cider, Pumpkins Orchard Privides Autumn Happiness

Author: Mary Houde Staff Writer

At this time of the year, apple-picking begins to taper off while cider-making and pumpkin-picking take their turns. Stan Pratt the owner of Happy Valley Orchard, will not be able to rest until the Orchard closes the day before Thanksgiving.

Ever since Pratt purchased the Orchard four years ago he and his family have been upgrading the lot. He has sold some of the land in order to concentrate on maintaining just the Orchard. "Smaller is better in this business," declared Pratt. "This place was run down when we bought it, but we've been working slowly to improve it."

Pratt has not only nurtured the apple trees, but he is also introducing new varieties. "There's been a push to grow Honeycrisp apples. They aren't native to Vermont, but our trees seem to be surviving the winters here."

The orchard brings in a solid income, but it's not enough for the family to depend on all year. "We work on maintaining the trees year round, but it's always got to be just a part-time business." Every season requires another job to be performed. The winter months see the trees being pruned and shaped. New trees are planted in the spring to replace those lost in the winter months. The first buds of the season mean that it is time to start spraying to prevent diseases.

Pratt also mentioned a crucial week after the trees have blossomed: "Early May we rent beehives to insure that all our trees get pollinated. We could probably get by with the regular bumble bees around here, but it only helps to bring in the hives." Summer sees more spraying and lawn mowing to prepare for the orchard opening at the end of August. "That's when everything happens," Pratt said, summing up autumn.

Pratt operates the farm with three other family members and a few part-time helpers. Though the primary job is collecting apples, there are several other odds and ends to be done. Pratt said, "We sell everything here—pumpkins, squash, gourds, mums, apple pies, jam, fudge, cider. Sometimes I even make doughnuts." All their produce is sold locally at stores, their stand and to Middlebury College. "The College is by far our best customer. I bring them fresh apples and cider everyday." Pratt continued, "Not only do the College's social functions bring parents and students out to pick apples, but many of the students get together on their own and come over. A few weeks ago some students came out and learned how to make apple cider."

Jasmin Johnson '05 recently went to Happy Valley Orchard with a group of first-years sponsored by Wonnacott Commons. The group spent the afternoon wandering from tree to tree and climbing each other's shoulders in attempts to snatch the biggest apples from the upper branches. Johnson recalled the afternoon, "The atmosphere of the orchard was so lighthearted. We were free and running, climbing trees and lying in the grass. It was all so simple."