by Sabine Rhyne
The fall bustle is happening among the trees in the Scott Farm orchards too—buzzing, flying, singing and, of course, picking. It’s a veritable chorus of early fall activity. The beautiful 571-acre farm is on the National Register of Historic Places, and has been in continuous operation as a farm since 1791 (that would be the year that Vermont became a state). The Landmark Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to “bringing important but neglected historic properties back to life,” is the organization that owns and runs the various parts of the farm. The spread includes Naulakha (the Rudyard Kipling House) and 22 other buildings scattered about the acreage. The mission of the trust has meant much loving restoration of barns and farmhouses, as well as the orchard itself. And what an orchard!
Scott Farm apples have recently become almost synonymous with their orchardist, the knowledgeable and entertaining Zeke Goodband. In 2001, Zeke began grafting cuttings that he had collected and nurtured to the original Macintosh stock, row by row, hill by hill. Although his predecessor, Fred Holbrook, and the Holbrook family, were innovative and thoughtful farmers who purchased the farm in 1903, Zeke took things a step further. He cut the tops of some of the trees off to graft the heirloom cuttings. Within two years, those trees were producing heirloom apples, with more and more varieties added to the orchard every year. The orchard includes about 6000 trees now, and numbers over 90 varieties of apples from all over the world. The farm produces 18-20,000 bushels of apples a year.
Over 35 heirloom varieties are described on the Scott Farm website, all with colorful names including hints of provenance: Hubbardston Nonesuch, Lamb Abbey Pearmain, Hudson’s Golden Gem. Their stories are an anthropologist’s delight. For instance: “Lady Apple – This is the oldest apple still being grown today and was already well established during the Roman Empire. Because it was a small and flavorful apple, it was popular during the Renaissance when ladies would keep one tucked away in their bosom and take it out to freshen their breath. It was also widely used as a Christmas decoration by wiring them to wreaths.” Aside from the poetry of their stories, these fruits instigated a long line of passionate taste collectors who, from the earliest days of villages trading fruit and planting and caring for local trees, passed their history down to future generations. “I bite into a Esopus Spitzenberg,” Zeke says, “and think about this apple being eaten by Jefferson in his own orchard.” These apples were special, their existence had value for their “shepherds.”
Similarly, at the Scott Farm, the care and treatment of the trees, and the people who work with them, is taken very seriously. As such, the orchard is farmed ecologically, with very specific awareness of what pests are threatening which trees, and what to do to best take care of both the ecosystem that is the entire tree and its surrounding ground cover, soil, and insect population. Kelly Carlin, Megan Reichle, and Tristam Johnson all joined into the conversation to underline the philosophy of the farm. “Sometimes, we will sacrifice a corner of the orchard to a pest to draw them away from the rest of the trees. Sometimes, we will go after a particular pest, taking care not to wipe out all of the other precariously balanced organisms, with the least invasive thing we can use.” This approach is fraught with misinterpretation. In this particular case, organic production is not used, as sometimes an organic pest control product can just as easily wipe out an ecosystem as a chemical one. Instead, they pick and choose, situation by situation, to do what is best for all the trees, and for the fifteen people (at the height of the season) employed by the farm. Are the apples organic? No, but they are constantly ecologically evaluated, with insect traps and eyes and ears, to best figure out next steps, avoiding the endless domino effect of spray cycles, whether with chemical or organic approaches. So, the end result is that they are safe for consumption, with nothing more than a buff on the shirt. And for the fruit that shows some cosmetic issues, Scott Farm’s unpasteurized cider is a fantastic treat for visitors to the farmstand, with varieties of heirlooms flavoring the cider differently every week.
The Jamaican crew members that pick the greatest number of apples on the farm are veterans of the Scott Farm process, some of whom have come for 20 years. As we trekked into the orchard for the group picture on the cover, we observed the respect and camaraderie of the staff and the pickers, and all of us enjoyed discovering varieties at every turn. But lest you think it’s all about apples, Scott Farm also grows peaches, pears, nectarines, plums, pluots, grapes, quince, berries, Asian pears, medlars, and pumpkins. Next year, they hope to begin growing persimmons and pawpaws. What is clear is that the resource that is the Scott Farm—the thriving economic engine of the Landmark Trust—is a precious community resource that we can all feel proud to know and to enjoy. Stop in to meet some of the folks from Scott Farm, on Friday, October 4 from 11am to 1pm, try some of their apples that will be featured all month, and commune with the English peasants or Kazakh villagers, or perhaps even an enthusiastic orchardist.