It was the perfect fall weather day in New England. The kind where it was overcast and gray, but somehow warm and the breeze was just cool enough for a light jacket.
Our crew rolled up to the farm only five minutes down the road from Lees Market, Matt Ponte, my fellow Communications Manager, JD, the Produce Manager, Matt Cummings, the Store Manager, and myself, Kelsey Cestodio, the journalist/photographer for the day, were all packed into one car.
I immediately pointed my finger on the car window to point to the adorable dog that perked up as our tires crunched over the pebbled driveway. He had gray fur around his face and got very excited that company was here, and I just about melted into my seat.
JD parked the car and we all hopped out, as we were greeted by the dog whose name we discovered was Diesel.
We found Warren in the farm stand, as Matt and JD shook his hand and gave warm and familiar hellos and Matt Ponte and I introduced ourselves. JD bent down to pet Diesel, they were old friends.
Warren made us laugh by telling us that Diesel was the farm mascot, and had a fan club to go along with it. They even made mugs with his picture on it, and it was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.
The farm store felt like an old-fashioned orchard farm stand, with baskets of all kinds of apples and other fall favorites like gourds and pumpkins. It smelled amazing in there, like a woodsy apple candle brought to life.
Warren asked if we were ready to check out the orchard, and so we all took off with Diesel in the lead.
As we climbed the hill to the orchard, Warren joked with a smile about Diesel having the mind of a 90 year-old man, “he goes and does whatever he wants, he doesn’t care what anyone has to say…he is 13 after all.” And there Diesel went, weaving off in between the rows of apples and stopping to sniff them at his leisure.
As we walked past the rows of apples hanging from the trees, I was instantly transported to my childhood years of apple picking with my parents in the fall. It was an old memory that hadn’t been brought to light in years, all sparked by the smell of apple trees and crisp fall air.
Warren explained to us that he grew his trees in a really unique way, it’s called a high density orchard.
He plants dwarf trees and ropes them down into tight rows, so it’s easy for kids to pick. He created a growing strategy to make it best for people to enjoy picking apples, no matter what age or height you are.
The rows were labeled with handmade signs to distinguish what apples were where, and fallen apples lay delicately in the grass while some apples were smooshed from trampling feet. Bees traveled between the apples, and it was bliss.
“Yum, Macoun’s are my favorite kind of apple,” I exclaimed when I saw the sign, and Warren turned around and cracked a smile, “you and everyone else!”
Warren was one of the funniest farmers we had met so far, he busted out the most sarcastic jokes ever. He had a youthful feel to him, as he talked animatedly about apple trees and walked us around, all while pruning as he went.
With every statement he made, you could see the excitement in his eyes. Apple’s were his thing, through and through.
He knew every scientific fact and measurement down the number. He knew cross strains, watering calculations, and how the “brain” of the plant worked. It’s always something special to talk to someone about something they are so passionate about.
One of the most interesting facts Warren let us on to is the fact that he pumped water from his lake in order to water the trees, “I pump water until the frogs sing, and then I stop”. Apparently the frogs are the best way of knowing the levels of pesticide and sprays that are being used on the plants.
If your frog population is thriving, then you know you didn’t overdo the spray. If they all suddenly disappear, you used to much.
Matt Cummings our Store Manager, who used to be the Produce Manager for many years before, got a real kick out of that, “frog’s are like nature’s gauge to pesticides, who knew!”
So if you ever want to know how your pesticide ratio is going, listen to the frogs.
The apples that had fallen on the floor were like a piece of art in of themselves, and Warren mentioned that they pick up the apples that fall and sell or re-purpose them to local pig farmers.
Animals love to eat them too, he mentions.
I asked if Diesel ever eats the apples that fall and he chuckled, “are you kidding me? He eats 2-3 a day! All the canines love them: foxes, coyotes, and Diesel is no exception. Even the deer eat them like crazy.”
It was interesting to see an orchard so unique like this, where the trees didn’t have the fruit hanging tall. I remember having to go up on my parents shoulders in order to pick apples when I was little, but this farm was curated for little hands.
The fruit hung in clumps that were low to the ground and in tight rows. I could imagine how excited a two year old would be to grab an apple and be able to pick it all by themselves.
Warren, of course, couldn’t show us the trees without pruning as he went. We went through rows and rows as he showed us how his growing process was done, all while working as he went to bring us into the process with him.
It felt like I was getting a lesson from my own family member.
Warren clipped a particularly large branch off and smirked, “you know cutting off dead branches is like getting a haircut, you start off looking like s**** and then you look great in the end!”
When asked how old some of the trees are, Warren turned around and pointed to one at the end and said he had planted that particular one in 1982. These trees have been here since before I was even a twinkle in my parent’s eye (I’m only 24, you know).
He led us back around to the farm stand, right past his pick-your-own sunflowers which were the most beautiful and dense field of sunflowers I had ever seen. He was the master of growing a large population of crops in a small amount of space.
Diesel was getting pretty tired at this point, you can see him wandering around in the pumpkin patch below.
Warren’s eyes really lit up when he asked if we wanted to see the animals, and when I mentioned that pigs were my favorite he got even more excited, “oh, you’re really in for a treat then!”
In typical farmer fashion, he went pen to pen letting the animals out of their brand new enclosures.
He was right of course, the pigs were an absolute treat to see.
When he took the turkeys out of their pens, Matt Cummings asked if he was going to eat one for Thanksgiving, and he said of course, “I’m going to pick out the biggest turkey, chop his head off, and have the grandkids learn how to pluck and gut a turkey. You know, kids these days are so removed from where their food comes from, and I want them to learn the proper way.”
I was surprised he knew how to prepare a turkey from start to finish, and he just exclaimed, “of course I do! I grew up eating like this.”
From the animals we headed to the satellite field to check out the granny smith apples which were growing more abundantly there than on the farm. It was only down the road and to the left.
By the time we got there the sun had completely broken through and there were no clouds in sight.
It was kind of strange, considering there was nothing but gray clouds 20 minutes ago, but that’s New England for you. I was starting to sweat it got so warm, so I ditched the cardigan and embraced the warm fall breeze.
The orchard rows were even more picturesque in the sunlight, as it streamed between the rows and backlit the fruit.
JD loves granny smith apples, so he was excited to see them. They were massive, some of them the size of my hand (which is exceptionally small for a grown adult so that’s probably not the best comparison, but you get my point).
Warren talked to JD and Matt Cummings about how he had a well built in the ground on this field so he could water the trees. It was impressive how savvy he was about the earth, and knowing which fields were best for wells and growing conditions alike.
The picture I took above of the granny smith apples in the sunlight was one of my favorites, it was so cool to see the apples thriving in such large, condensed clumps like that.
When we got to the last row, Warren picked three honey-crisp apples from the branches and tossed one to each of us.
The first bite was like candy; sweet, delicious, and made all the better by the experience and knowledge we had just learned in the hour we were here. I felt more connected to my food than ever before.
There’s something about eating fruit the second after it was plucked from the vine, no taste can ever compare.
We drove back to the farm stand to snap a shot of the signs, and the one below I thought was particularly cool because it gave a directory of the apples.
The picture I took of their roadside sign with the stand in the background gave quintessential fall vibes. I have never felt so New England.
Apple in hand, and a slight sunburn on our cheeks, we left the farm with smiles and our windows down. The whole ride back to the store we talked about how funny Warren was, and how beautiful the weather is.
Happiness truly lives in local farms.
Old Stone Orchard apples make the best apple anything, or taste amazing just by themselves. Slather them in peanut butter, make caramel apples, or bake an apple pie. There are so many ways to enjoy them while they are in season!
Make sure you buy a bag of the Old Stone Orchard apples the next time you come in. Heck, go right now. What are you waiting for?
As always, we want you to feel the connection we experience everyday in our line of work. It’s important you know where your food comes from, and choose to support the local farmers who care so deeply for the area we live in.
Until next time, at your favorite local farm,
Kelsey of Lees and Clements’ Market