As the days grow shorter and Dartmouth settles into its fall rhythm, students are discovering a new seasonal pastime: apple picking. Since the beginning of the fall term, the Poverty Lane Orchards in Lebanon, N.H., has been drawing an increasing amount of interest from the Dartmouth student community.
The orchard, which allows visitors to pick their own fruit from a wide variety of apple trees, is attracting students who want to experience the relative novelty of harvesting apples by hand. Upon arriving at the entrance, visitors are greeted by a scarecrow perched atop a piece of antique harvesting equipment, and a similarly lighthearted atmosphere prevails throughout the farm.
Tractor rides give tours of the grounds, workers’ dogs wander freely and visitors can be seen returning from the fields with their haul of fruit. The farm also features an outdoor produce stand where visitors can purchase seasonal favorites and regional staples such as pumpkins, honey, maple syrup, jellies and — of course — apples.
Within the central cluster of farm buildings, a visitor encounters people of all ages. Older residents of the Upper Valley, many of whom have been regular guests since the farm’s inception in the early 1960s, can be seen walking the grounds alongside their grandchildren.
During the school year, it is not uncommon to be passed by a trailer full of elementary school students participating in one of the 50 educational tractor tours conducted at Poverty Lane each year. In recent weeks, growing numbers of Dartmouth students have been counted among the guests.
The rustic charm of the orchard seems to have struck a chord with College students, and favorable reviews have been spreading by word of mouth.
Anne Delehanty ’06 said she was impressed and would make a return trip. “It was really pretty.”
Elyssa Gelmann ’06 explained that she and her friends made the trip “to have fun and get away from campus. [The atmosphere was] friendly, family oriented. They encouraged us to taste the apples in the fields.”
Though picking apples is a relatively simple and relaxed activity, visitors seem to genuinely enjoy themselves. One mother enthused that, “It’s fun, it’s healthy and we come every year!”
Guests are encouraged to use the complementary “Heirloom Apple Field Guide.” The guide, which identifies the farm’s many color-coded and sequentially numbered apple trees, helps visitors avoid out of season or inedible varieties destined for cider. With over eighty acres of land under cultivation, the guide certainly helps apple pickers narrow their search.
The orchard features over a dozen varieties of apples, and the vast majority of the apple trees produce ripe fruit during the autumn months of September and October.
Traditional types such as Red Delicious and Macintosh are plentiful, but they are complemented by rare varieties such as Nonpareil and Gilpin. The latter pair is used exclusively in the production of alcoholic cider, and this product’s increasing importance to the business highlights a dramatic change in its focus.
While the casual visitor will see the dirt parking lot, the open-air market and the free-range Labradors, one would never guess that the Poverty Lane Orchards’ primary business caters to an upscale urban market.
Through its Farnum Hill brand of premium cider, the orchard is seeking to win market share in the New York City and Washington, D.C. restaurant sectors, among others. In fact, the orchard is well positioned to do so, because it already cultivates the largest planting of exotic English and French cider apples in North America.
Despite its expansionist ambitions, the Poverty Lane Orchards’ essential character remains unaffected. Owned by the Wood family since 1965, the orchard is very much a family business.
Steve Wood has worked the lands since his family acquired the business, and he is now working alongside his sons Harry and Otis.
Wood conceded that “things are changing.” But he insisted that, “We are a local farm, and we want to remain accessible to locals.”
Due to their high elevation, the orchard fields overlook the adjacent mountains and the picturesque woodlands beneath them. While the rows of apple trees look inviting, the orchard floor is littered with crushed apples and tufts of high grass, so boots are recommended. After all, this is a farm.
In addition, aspiring apple-pickers would be well advised to bring tall friends, because the lowest apples are the first ones to go.