Champlain Orchard buys Douglas Orchards
“Often it’s the kids who drive that pick-your-own tradition in their families.”
— Bill Suhr
SHOREHAM — Two popular Shoreham orchards have come together under one owner.
On July 8 Bill Suhr and Andrea Scott of Champlain Orchards announced that they had purchased Douglas Orchards and Cider Mill from Bob and Scott Douglas.
“For the past 21 years I have been emulating our neighbors … as they care for their family farm and orchards,” Suhr wrote in announcing the deal. “After years of discussions, we were able to officially purchase the 180-acre farm, allowing Bob & Terry, and Scott & Sue Douglas to officially begin a well-earned retirement.”
Bob and Scott Douglas are the fourth generation to own and operate Douglas Orchards. The Douglas family purchased the land in 1898 and milked cows there for the first few decades. The orchard was “pieced together” over time, said Scott Douglas during a visit by the Independent.
Suhr — who grew up in Maryland, studied Natural Resources at the University of Vermont and refers to himself as a “flatlander” — purchased his first 60 acres of orchard a full century after the Douglas family got their start.
“Scott and Bob welcomed me when I arrived in Shoreham in 1998 with zero fruit growing experience, just lots of enthusiasm,” Suhr explained. “I remember breaking wooden brush rake tines while burying a 2-wheel drive outdoor forklift in mud while attempting to push out orchard pruning brush in the afternoon. The following morning, I watched Bob and Scott glide across their rut-free orchards when the ground was semi frozen. The lesson was patience and timing.”
Other mishaps occurred, invariably, but over the years Suhr learned a lot from the Douglases and from other members of the Shoreham orchard community, and Champlain Orchard has expanded to 350 acres of fruit, including 220 acres of apples, as well as plums, peaches, nectarines, pears, raspberries, cherries and currants.
Suhr’s initial foray into fruit growing was made financially possible by the Vermont Land Trust, whose purchase of the land’s development rights meant that Suhr could buy the orchard for half the asking price.
Champlain Orchard’s purchase of Douglas Orchards was similarly made possible by the land trust, which announced the conservation on April 2.
“The Douglas family orchard is an institution in Shoreham and Addison County,” said Al Karnatz, Champlain Valley farm director for the Vermont Land Trust. “Conserving the orchard is important because of its prominent location on Route 74, its excellent agricultural soils and the family’s devoted stewardship over the past 120 years.”
The conservation was funded by the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board and the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service.
“Before selling the property, we wanted to protect the land from future development,” Scott Douglas said at the time. “We’ve worked hard to maintain and adapt the orchard over the years. It feels good to ensure it will continue to have a role in Shoreham’s agricultural future.”
TWO UNIQUE FARMS
Suhr has pledged to preserve what is unique about both orchards.
“Over the years we have worked hard not to compete with the Douglas family when growing our PYO (pick your own) operation,” Suhr said. “We respect that some customers have formed loyalties to one of the two farms, while others travel back and forth to experience both. Many companies absorb a competitor and simply overlay their own company traits. We see an opportunity to maintain the unique experiences each farm offers to people can appreciate the existing traditions of each farm.”
Douglas Orchard grows apples, pears, cherries and berries, and makes cider.
“They’re well known for their sweet cider,” Suhr pointed out during the Independent’s visit.
The biggest market change Douglas Orchards has experienced over the years has probably been the addition of PYO, Scott Douglas said.
The orchard began offering PYO strawberries in 1973, then added apples in the 1980s.
Douglas was growing five acres and harvesting about 15,000 pounds of strawberries every year at its peak, Scott Douglas said.
The orchard gave up strawberries a few years ago, but Suhr is hoping to bring them back.
“We will be growing the most expensive quarter acre known to humankind,” he said with a laugh. “And progress from there. By the second generation we’ll have it figured out.”
Both orchards have earned strong customer loyalty, which in many cases has been passed down through the generations.
“People come, and they’ll tell us how many years they’ve been coming,” said Terry Douglas. And parents bringing their kids will recall what it was like coming to pick apples when they themselves were kids.
“Often it’s the kids who drive that (PYO) tradition in their families,” Suhr said. “It’s an honor for us, and it’s reassuring for our family that we (Champlain Orchards) remain relevant.”
Recognizing that people cooped up during the pandemic are eager to get out and (in socially distanced fashion) pick fruit, Suhr and his crew are “working very hard to make it safe,” he said.
And the fruit keeps coming.
Champlain officials said that berry season is winding down (apparently raspberries were abundant this year), and peaches and nectarines are coming soon.
“It’s been a happy transition,” Suhr said. “Everyone’s happy.”
“We’re excited that Bill’s so excited,” Terry Douglas said.
Terry and Bob are looking forward to relaxing in their retirement, she said, and maybe riding around in Bob’s 1953 Ford truck.
They’re also working their way, informally, toward joining the “251 Club,” whose members have visited all 251 cities and towns in Vermont.
“We’ve never been able to do anything in the fall, so this will be different,” she added.
Sue Douglas said she’s looking forward to walking through the orchard. She and Scott are also looking forward to doing some traveling — as soon as that becomes a possibility again.
There are some things the Douglases will not miss about running an orchard, though, and it didn’t take long for Bob and Scott to name them:
“Regulations,” said Scott.
“Spraying,” said Bob.
For more information about Champlain Orchards and Douglas Orchards, visit their Facebook pages. Champlain also maintains a website at champlainorchards.com.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected]
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