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Wednesday, Dec 6, 2023

Break the mold with a new fall break

With fall break almost here, anxiety is high across campus as students count down the minutes until, for four days, they are free from work and loosed to enjoy the Vermont fall foliage. For those opting to remain in Middlebury for the break, there are countless outings to enjoy. The Middlebury Antique Center and Happy Valley Orchards are just two possible destinations.
Francis and Dianne Stevens moved to Middlebury from Boston 35 years ago. The two have always enjoyed perusing through flea markets and their curiosity sparked the couple’s decision to open the Middlebury Antique Center, located at 3255 Route 7 South in East Middlebury, Vt. Customers from all over the United States have visited the store, but Francis also has customers who venture into the shop once a month or even once a week.
“We have 50 dealers who sell here,” said Francis. “Some of them are from California, and there are some from Arizona and New Jersey. We have a wide variety.”
The store, which sells everything from jewelry to furniture to brass to fishing lures, is renowned for its artwork.
“We are unique in that we offer pieces of quality,” said Francis, who believes his four-year-old German Shepherd Husky, Dutchess, is an invaluable part of his business as well.
Dutchess greets customers and remembers certain people each time they come to the store.
The couple, who has owned the shop for 24 years, travels to auctions across the country to find antiques. The antique center is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
A seven-minute drive from the Stevens’ two-story antique shop sits Happy Valley Orchards. Mary and Stan Pratt bought the orchard in 1998, after leasing land in Cornwall, Vt.
“We actually live on Happy Valley Road, and we named our Cornwall orchard after the road,” said Mary. “But it has caused much confusion ever since we moved to Middlebury because everyone thinks the orchard is on Happy Valley Road.” On the contrary, the orchard is located at 217 Quarry Road.
Both husband and wife have farming experience. Mary lived in Bridport, Vt., eight miles west of campus, on a dairy farm. Her father-in-law was once a trainer at the Morgan Horse Farm in Middlebury, and Stan worked for Centennial Pine, where he was involved in seasonal planting.
“Needless to say, we both love farming,” she said.
Mary is also a bookkeeper, as she says the 14 acres of land are not enough to make a living. Stan is one of the ice rink managers and Zamboni drivers at the College.
Apples are planted from mid-May until Columbus Day, and picking starts in late August. Unfortunately, this year’s apples have been a poor batch, as the fruit matured three weeks early. There are also fewer apples due to the fluctuating weather in the spring. The warm April weather caused the apples to blossom earlier than usual, and when the May frost hit, those blossoms were susceptible to the temperature changes. The cold air killed many blossoms, especially those at the bottom of the trees.
Though Happy Valley Orchards is open through November 23, Mary warns that apple-picking season is almost finished.
“We have 70 to 80 different varieties of apples,” she said. “Stan and I love planting the vintage old-fashioned varieties.” The couple began planting such “heritage” types, like the Baldwin apple and the Cox Orange Pippin one, about eight years ago.
Yet the most popular apple is the Honey Crisp. Mary said it has peaked in popularity in the last 10 years because of it crunchy taste, and because it stays hard for a long period of time, compared to other types like McIntosh.
“My favorite apple is the McIntosh because of my New England upbringing,” said Mary. “I seem to enjoy the milder and sweeter taste.”
Interestingly, the Pratts cannot grow Granny Smith apples because the growing season in Vermont is too short.
“We have removed some of the trees that the old owners planted,” said Mary. “But we plant semi-dwarf and not dwarf trees, which are mainly used for commercial use because there is a romantic feeling attached to a big tree.”
The couple also blends together several varieties of apples to make their famous cider, which is offered in the dining halls and at the Grille, as well as at Otter Creek Bakery and Noonie’s Deli.
“All of our retail products are sold locally,” said Mary.
The Pratts also sell pumpkins and winter vegetables, like squash, from Foster Brothers Farm. Cider doughnuts are a favorite for many customers too. The orchard charges $10 for half a bushel of apples during the week, and $8 during the weekend.
The Pratts, who also grow peach, plum and cherry trees, stay updated on “apple news” by following the research at Cornell University, as the school is invested in agriculture. They are also members of the Vermont Fruit Tree Growers and learn from speakers who attend the organization’s meetings.