ELMIRA — 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 Southwestern Ontario had the best of both worlds: good turnout for both crops and customers.
And it wasn’t just for the chance to pluck apples from trees. Maple Crisp Orchard at Elmira doesn’t do any pick-your-own and still had a fantastic year, with really good turnout of customers to the on-farm retail store, nice apples and good weather. “It’s definitely shaping up to be the best year we’ve ever had,” said Norman Horst, who took over the orchard with his wife Bernadine in 2000. The Mennonite orchard keepers have eight children, all of whom help out.
The farmers don’t track how many people come to the farm, but at peak Horst estimated they had over 400 groups coming through their eight-acre orchard on any given Saturday. That might’ve been a concern for social distancing but people knew the score. “It seemed that people came, they quickly got their stuff, then they left again.” Saturdays are generally one of their busiest days, but with many people off-work or working from home and looking for something to do with the kids, weekday traffic was up as well.
For Brussels-area pick-your own farmer David Griffiths, it’s been a busy year. Lots of factors came together to produce a good crop: no hail, lots of heat, sufficient rain. “The weather was on our side this year.” That also helped draw a crowd, and Griffiths figured attendance this year had doubled. The farm used to rely more on wholesale apples, but as Griffiths and his wife Karen have gotten older (as have their kids), pick-your-own has been easier to manage.
Mark Vansteenkiste, who runs Twin Pines Orchard and Cider House at Lambton Shores, is used to a busy season but 2020 was something else. The number of visitors had nearly doubled and since local labour was hard to find (the farm doesn’t bring in any offshore workers), he worked long days. “You don’t get a day, morning or evening off at all.” But it’s hard to complain, he said. “The crop was good, the people were nice and we were able to get the crop off.”