Apple season is under way at Monkton orchard

MONKTON — Jessika and Steven Yates didn’t move to Monkton for the apples.
In 2008, after 10 years living abroad on boats, the Yateses fell in love with some land on Monkton Ridge and they bought it. That land came with a house, amazing views and some apple trees — 120 of them.
“At first we saw the orchard as this fun challenge,” said Jessika Yates, who now manages those trees.
A lot has happened since then.
The Yateses have expanded their farm stand to include pressed cider, creemees, baked goods, honey, maple syrup, orchard-made jams and even art. Their operation is 100 percent solar-powered. And on Sept. 7, when pick-your-own season opened at the Yates Family Orchard, customers fanned out with their apple bags and began to relieve 360 trees of their fruit.
Picking apples is a very popular autumn activity in Vermont — and particularly in the big apple-producing Addison County. According to the Vermont Tree Fruit Growers Association, Vermont orchards produce nearly 1 million bushels of apples annually, valued at approximately $15 million.
“Sometimes I’ll look at all these trees so laden with apples and think how amazing it is they don’t crack and fall to the ground,” Jessika Yates said. “Then you think, ‘Oh well, next year we’ll get nothing.’ But every year we’ve been fortunate. I don’t know if it’s the slope or the drainage or what, but we have a really good microclimate here.”
Some of the trees in their orchard were established in the 1930s.
“We have customers who have been picking apples here since they were children, and they know exactly which trees they want to pick,” Yates said. “They pick those same trees every year.”
The Yates have also planted some trees of their own — Honey Crisp, Northern Spy, Zestar — to keep up with popular taste. They now grow 23 apple varieties for picking.
With the help of the former property owners, David and Genevieve Boyer, as well as the Vermont Tree Fruit Growers Association, the Yateses learned how to care for their 120 trees.
“The goal from the beginning was to not waste fruit,” Yates said. “I hate to see the apples fall to the ground.”
In the beginning they enlisted the help of Salvation Farms in Morrisville, whose mission is to build increased resilience in Vermont’s food system through agricultural surplus management.
“Their volunteers came and picked our excess fruit, then packaged it, processed it and distributed it around the state,” Yates explained.
Over time, by word of mouth, the Yates have built up their pick-your-own business. They bought a commercial press for cider. They pursued new opportunities when they arose.
Last year, they bought more land — two and a half additional acres — tripling the number of trees. Now they grow peaches, too, as well as plums, pears, cherries and black raspberries, all of which they use in various products they sell at their farm stand.
With more trees came more responsibility. Yates quit her work in real estate and property management so she could focus on the orchard full-time.
“We’re right at that stage where we might need to start hiring seasonal help,” she said.
Not only does she run her family’s business now, but she also oversees integrated pest management for the 10 acres that encompasses their own orchard and neighbors’ parcels. Her main focus is on reducing spraying.
“We trap for pests, to get an idea of what we have to deal with,” she said. “We keep the orchard clean and mown. This year we raked up the leaf matter to try to cut down on fungi growth.”
Orion Yates, now nine years old, does the mowing on a small tractor.
“He’s been riding on tractors since he was about three years old,” Yates said. “He loves doing it.”
Four very occasional, unofficial and totally unfocused members of the pest-management team happen to be dogs: Schooner, the Yates’ 12-year-old German shorthair pointer, and three of her neighbor friends.
“They love to get together and run around in the orchard,” Yates said. “Sometimes they’ll rustle up some of the mice. They have a great time out there.”
As payment for her services (or more likely because she is helpless before all that fruit), Schooner eats 20 to 30 apples a day.
“The vet says, ‘Maybe not so many apples,’” Yates said. Then she gestured across the orchard. “Good luck with that.”
Schooner has become very particular about which apples she eats.
“She won’t eat them off the ground anymore — she pulls them right off the trees.” Sometimes Schooner will get together with her friends and steal apples from the fresh-picked bins. “Needless to say, she’ll be hanging out at hubby’s office during pick-your-own season,” Yates said.
Also new this year at the Yates Family Orchard is participation in the Apples to iPad program. Somewhere on their orchard, Yates has hidden a wooden apple. Whoever finds it can redeem it for an Apple iPad Mini 4.
A partnership between Small Dog Electronics, the Vermont Tree Fruit Growers Association, and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Apples to iPads began in 2007 to promote Vermont’s working landscape and to attract families to the state’s orchards, including three in Addison County.
The Yates Family Orchard (1074 Davis Road) is open every day, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., through early November. For more information visit yatesfamilyorchard.com or see their Facebook page.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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