Apple farms branch out, build barns

SHOREHAM/MIDDLEBURY — As Vermont’s local food market continues to thrive, two Addison County farms are building up — literally.
Family-owned businesses Champlain Orchards in Shoreham and Happy Valley Orchard in Middlebury are both raising new structures on their respective properties this season. The rise of niche markets, especially fermented cider products, played an important role in the expansion of both orchards.
“We’ve been seeing a new type of customer,” said Bill Suhr of Champlain Orchards.
At Champlain Orchards a new 18,000-square-foot structure will eventually house additional storage space, the packaging operation, and a new cafeteria for staff members. Suhr said the additional structure will give his company the space it needs to grow, as it develops products and plants new varieties of apples for the growing number of consumers interested in locally grown food.
In addition to pick-your-own apples, Champlain Orchards offers homemade pies, cider syrup (a sweet reduction that can be used for basting meat or as a dessert topping) and is on its third year of fermenting its own hard cider and ice cider (a dessert wine, served chilled.)
“The customers are there,” Suhr said. “We offer them a Vermont product, instead of something from out of state.”
Suhr noted that Champlain Orchard’s recent partnership with All Earth Renewables, a Vermont solar panel installation company, means that its new barn will be 100 percent powered by renewable energy.
Meanwhile, Happy Valley’s decision to build a2,400-square-foot storage and production building was due to higher demand of cider made from its apples, said Mary Pratt, who owns the orchard with her husband, Stan.
“It’s been getting more and more popular,” Pratt said on a busy weekday afternoon, as she took a quick break from the register. “We’re growing out of the area we already have.”
Happy Valley is the main supplier for Citizen’s Cider, a new hard cider company in Colchester.
“The barn will have our cider press and more space for cold storage, making our season a little longer,” Pratt said.
But building barns — like growing a company — isn’t an overnight endeavor.
Over at Champlain Orchards, Bill Suhr said it would be years before his barn is insulated.
“We won’t occupy a lot of it right away,” he said. “We’re putting a roof on it this year. Then we’ll begin to insulate.”
Happy Valley also has a long time-frame.
“We poured the foundation eight years ago,” Pratt said. “We couldn’t do the whole thing at once, so it happened in stages.”
“We’re small time, family business people,” she explained.

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