Picking your own apple … recipes – Times Union

Like in most other Septembers, Melissa Peterson packed her family into her car to bring them to nearby Terrace Mountain Orchard, in Schoharie, for a weekend afternoon of apple picking. Like in most other Septembers, they eventually returned home with a bushel of apples and a bag of cider doughnuts. And as usual, the Peterson family was prepared to face a crowd, all eager to claim fruits with the sweetest blush and juiciest flesh. But this September, the means and methods to acquire these autumnal upstate necessities were much different than before.

“It was the busiest I’ve ever seen it and we’ve been going there for several years,” said Peterson. George Schmidt, a member of the family that owns Terrace Mountain Orchard, said that business has, “increased quite a bit,” from the 1,500 visitors they usually receive each Thursday through Sunday, when the orchard and bake shop are open for business.

“I think the sheer number of people was the most noticeable, which created a very long line to purchase bags for collecting apples or buying items in the bakery,” said Peterson. An orchard employee came out to the line to sell bags, she said, and noticed that people who were ahead of her in line were just heading out to the orchard to pick apples as she and her family were heading back to their car. While social distancing and COVID-19 safety measures were in place, Peterson’s family opted to not ride the tractor wagon out to the trees (in other years, they have) nor stop into the bake shop for doughnuts after picking. (Peterson said they chose to stop at The Carrot Barn for doughnuts on the way home, instead.)

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At Windy Hill Orchard in Castleton, co-owner Todd Seeberger said that traffic has increased significantly for bakery and you-pick customers. “Folks have been cooped up and are looking for something to do outside,” he said, noting that while the average weekly visitor count is around 10,000, that number is overshadowed by this year’s business, even as worries of COVID-19 still hover among staff and customers. “This isn’t news to everyone. We’ve been doing this since March,” Seeberger said, noting that customers have been cognizant and obedient of mask and social distancing rules. Windy Hill Orchard is not offering children’s activities like face painting and a bounce house to stay in keeping with pandemic safety regulations, but most other activities have returned for the 2020 season.

At the beginning of September, Governor Cuomo’s office and the N.Y. Department of Agriculture and Markets released guidelines for agritourism businesses to operate this fall with COVID-19 precautions. Corn mazes, hayrides, and pick-your-own operations are allowed to operate with mandatory face coverings, social distancing and reduced capacity measures enacted to appropriately space customers. “These businesses, which include pick-your-own fruit are considered low-risk outdoor arts and entertainment and are permitted to operate under New York’s NY Forward guidance,” said Cynthia Haskins, executive director of New York Apple Association in an emailed statement. Seeberger said that adapting to these standards and guidelines was not difficult, as Windy Hill Orchard is closed over the summer and opens in September and had plenty of time to adjust to new regulations. “Nothing has changed for us besides the rules,” he said.

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At DeVoe’s Rainbow Orchards in Halfmoon, co-owner Alan DeVoe said that adjusting to COVID-19 regulations has been of moderate difficulty. “There are definitely some hurdles and headaches,” he said, sometimes having to remind customers to properly wear masks. DeVoe decided not to launch new initiatives at his orchard and farm, like you-pick pumpkins and winter squash, but the business at his orchard and adjoining ice cream stand has been historic. “Sadly, COVID has really been a boon for us,” he said, estimating that business is up between 20 and 25 percent. Haskins said the apple crop is expected to be 32 million bushels of apples, up from last year’s 29.5 million bushels, but did not provide insight on how the increase of visitors to orchards will affect revenues for this year’s apple crop and related industries.

Orchard owners report that weekday activity has increased as people are home and able to visit during the weekday instead of waiting for the weekend, which helps to control crowding, but that some families are opting out of a visit to the 150 pick-your-own orchards across the state. “I won’t be going back on a weekend,” said Peterson, but plans to try again at Terrace Mountain Orchard in a few weeks, during a weekday, when new apple varieties come into season. Provided the lines aren’t too long and safety measures are enacted, too, she might leave with another round of doughnuts, as well.
Deanna Fox is a food and agriculture writer. @DeannaNFox


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