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Wednesday, Dec 6, 2023

One for you and one for me

A classic fall tradition — apple picking — has met yet another of Vermont’s defin


ing characteristics: supporting the community. “Pick For Your Neighbor” is a program run by the Vermont Foodbank and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture that gives apple pickers the chance to donate apples to those in need.
“The idea is people are making an economic investment in the orchard and also picking apples for charitable purposes,” said Theresa Snow, program director of agricultural resources at the Vermont Foodbank.
The Foodbank provides participating orchards with posters so they can advertise the program to their customers. It also picks up the apples the orchards collect and distributes the fruit to food shelves and shelters across the state, helping feed as many as 86,000 people. The program, now in its second year, also benefits participating orchards, as they are able to attract customers and do something good for their communities.
“It’s a win-win situation for the growers as well,” said Mary Pratt, owner of Happy Valley Orchard in Middlebury, Vt.
The success of the program, especially in comparison to last year, is undeniable. “Pick For Your Neighhbor” now works with 18 orchards, an increase from the 12 that participated in 2009. According to Snow, around 6,000 pounds of apples have been collected already. This is a marked increase from the 2,200 pounds donated last year. Snow attributes the substantial increase in part to Green Mountain Beverage, a Middlebury-based company that makes Woodchuck Cider. Green Mountain sent 20 of its employees to Champlain Orchards for half a day. Together, the workers collected just over 100 bushels, or 4,000 pounds of apples.
“We feel it’s good as a local company to help out our community,” said Bridget Blacklock, Marketing Director at Green Mountain Beverage. “It tied into our industry and connected with apples.”
After reading about the program in a newsletter on the Vermont apple industry, Blacklock contacted Snow. It was easy to then connect with Champlain Orchards, as Green Mountain already purchases fresh juice made by the orchard for their cider.
“It was an opportunity for the employees to bond with each other in the outdoors and work,” said Bill Suhr, owner of Champlain Orchards. “Hopefully that inspires other companies.”
Suhr hopes other groups will come to the orchards and challenge the 4,000 pound record.
“Not that we need to be competitive,” he said, “but it’s a good cause.”
Other orchards have taken action, as well. Many choose to donate additional apples that their customers do not pick.
“It’s not just customers that come in and do it,” said Scott Douglas, owner of Douglas Orchards in Shoreham, Vt. “It’s nice to be able to help some people out.”
Douglas and Suhr, both of whom plan to run the program through the end of the season, have seen improvements in the organization. Douglas shipped out almost 250 pounds of apples on Oct. 7. He said that last year the orchard probably donated that much for the whole year.
Suhr expects his season to be even longer than last year. He said that an increased diversity of apples, many of which will ripen later in the year, will prolong the picking season for Champlain Orchards.
Snow is incredibly pleased with the evolution of the program and the involvement of participating orchards. She thinks that once an orchard participates for one year, it will forever be involved in “Pick For Your Neighbor.”
“They [the orchard owners] feel bad if people aren’t coming out to pick,” said Snow. “I tell them every apple, every pound — it’s worth it.”
Snow’s commitment to this idea has not wavered. In June 2009, she approached the Vermont Agency of Agriculture with a simple concern: there must be a way to get more apples into the charitable food system. Together, they came up with the “pick and purchase” idea. Snow contacted many orchards and 15 of them were interested in getting involved, and, while the Foodbank distributes the collected apples, the Agency of Agriculture still provides funding for the program.
“It’s great promoting for the Foodbank, and for the charitable world,” said Snow.
Yet for all its success, “Pick For Your Neighbor” has room for improvement. In the apple picking seasons to come, Snow hopes to generate more organized support from socially responsible businesses and other groups, like the Boy Scouts of America.
“This is possibly where the success of the program lies,” said Snow, who has worked hard to increase promotion and visibility.
She has sent out program information to all co-ops in Vermont, and she has contacted newspapers across the state. This year, student groups and churches got involved, too. Vermont’s Local Banquet, a quarterly magazine, also published an article on the program.
Still, Snow wants to look into other potential promotional outlets, such as the radio and public television.
“Sometimes it just takes time for people to catch on,” she said.
On the whole, Snow is extremely pleased with the program’s accomplishments thus far. She asserts that “Pick For Your Neighbor” benefits the apple pickers who choose to donate, as they get the satisfaction of knowing that they have done something good for someone else.
“All around it has nothing but positive impact,” said Snow.