CARP — If April is the cruelest month then September might’ve been the kindest, at least to apple orchards. With fine weather and a captive audience deprived of other attractions by COVID-19 restrictions, many apple orchards in Eastern Ontario had the best of both worlds: one of their best crops and best-ever attendance.
That was even true for operations that don’t rely on pick-your-own. Harvest Moon at Carp, run by Randy Maguire and Mary Lynn Geddes, strictly sells through an on-farm store and at the Carp Farmers Market. Pick-your-own, as Maguire put it, is more of an entertainment business than commercial operation which, if you’re set up for that, is fine. But blandishments to attract urbanites to come out to the farm were hardly necessary this year, he said.
Once the Carp market opened in June things were going like gangbusters. Maguire normally wraps up his season in December, when he runs out of apples, pumpkins and squash. But he expects to be clean out by mid-November this year, he told Farmers Forum. There’s been lots of new faces at the farm store, and not as one-offs either. Further boosting sales was volume; not only were more people coming by but they were buying more than they normally would. Maguire said the farm had been mulling a move online to broaden their marketing but that turned out to be totally unnecessary this year.
At Osgoode, Log Cabin Orchard had a solid year both for the apple crop and the customer crop. People turned out in droves to wander through their 10-acre orchard on the 33-acre farm. The weather, which held on the weekends through September, is always a huge factor for the weekend-driven business. Owner Darryl Maloney said this year was probably his best in the 10 years he’s been running the place.
At Kingston, Waddell Apples had an exceptional crop in both quality and quantity and turnout was strong. There was lots of work in getting the orchard prepared to meet social distancing guidelines but by September most people were very familiar with those and were mostly just grateful to have somewhere to go, said owner Marita Waddell. “We kind of had a sweet spot of a window. Everything was open and feasible here.”
For Shelly Lyall, who runs Mountain Orchard with her husband Philip and business partner Robert Hobson, the end of the season was a sigh of relief. Being able to host families that had been stressed out and cooped up was a pleasure, but the logistics and constantly changing landscape meant every day brought new challenges. After 46 years in the business, the hope is that you more or less know what to expect. “Going into this, we didn’t have a clue if we’d even open,” she said.
But beautiful weather, understanding people, standout staff and a hungry consumer base that picked them clean left her exhausted but got them through the season. “I have to say I’m quite happy that it’s over and we got through it.”