When Love Apple Farm burned to the ground back in 2013, it may have seemed that God served up a somewhat sour tasting cider. I guess as the saying goes, when you get lemons make lemonade and that’s exactly what happened. After two years of thoughtful planning, the new farm owners are resurrecting the beloved stop that was once the most beautiful blossom in New York State’s apple farm bouquet.
So the story of apples in New York State is quite fascinating. Apples are by far New York State’s most important agricultural crop. According to A.L. Dubois’ book, Apples of New York (New Place Press, 2015), 1,120 apple varieties are being cultivated in New York State. She explains in her book that apples arrived here from Europe. What is considered the first uniquely American apple was The Newton Pippin, and was cultivated on a farm in Flushing, Queens.
However, the word apple is from the Old English “aeppel,” and there is evidence that Native Americans cultivated wild apples extensively. There are between 25 to 30 kinds of wild apples grown throughout the world with seven kinds in the U.S.. Most wild apples are crab apples with small, sour, hard fruit. The crab apple is the ancestor of many of the varieties of apples grown today.
But at the dawn of man in prehistory, carbonized remains of apples have been reportedly found by archeologists in prehistoric lake dwellings in Switzerland, dating back to the Iron Age. There is also evidence to show that apples were eaten and preserved by slicing and sun drying during the Stone Age in Europe.
Photo by Liz West, courtesy of Flickr
In the 17th Century, apples made their way to New England via English colonists, but apples didn’t thrive in New York until the mid 18th Century when Robert Prince established the first commercial apple tree nursery in 1737 in Flushing, New York. The nursery survived under four generations of the Prince family until just after the Civil War. In 1775 The British who occupied Long Island during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783) had considered the William Prince Nursery so important that they put an armed guard around the nursery to protect it. In 1789, George Washington, six months after he became the new nation’s first president, made a trip by barge to visit the William Prince Nursery. He was accompanied by Vice President John Adams and others. Washington was not overly impressed. In his diary for Oct. 10, he notes:
“I set off from New York, about nine oclock in my barge, to visit Mr. Prince’s fruit gardens and shrubberies at Flushing. These gardens, except in the number of young fruit trees, did not answer my expectations. The shrubs were trifling and the flowers not numerous.”
This is a topic that could go on for a long time with a guy by the name of Johnny Apple Seed, etc. but let’s get to the “Love.”
So Love Apple Farm was sold in 2012. The Loken family that owned it for 40 years decided it was time to go out to the coast where they had daughters. The Lokens were a colorful bunch with creative juices intermingling with their apple juice and a daughter named Kristanna who became an actress. They even filmed an indie movie at Love called ‘Love Orchard’ starring Kristanna and Bruce Dern and directed by Farhad Mann. It told the story of illegal workers.
But what makes Love Apple Farm special is, well, the love. The Lokens owned and operated the family-friendly fruit orchard in Ghent, New York, selling tree ripe fruit since 1969. They became famous for their pick-your-own fruit, and used the fruit to make home-made ice cream which they sold on site. The petting zoo attracted boat loads of kids and parents and more than 30 kinds of apples made the apple season quite an extravaganza.
So what now? Well the farm is carefully opening in stages. First the U-Pick Your Own Fruit opens this weekend in time for Father’s Day. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 9am-5pm you can pick farm fresh cherries and maybe some nectarines.
The farm will be announcing the re-building project phases as they progress. And of course, the petting zoo will be open soon as well.
What’s great is that Love Apple Farm is back. It’s up from the ashes, so to speak, and that’s a good thing. I always love a good come-back story. And apples in these parts are a virtual institution. Come by and meet the new crew. And bring a bag or buy a bushel of cherries.
Love Apple Farm is located at 1421 State Route 9H in Ghent, NY. Just look for the LOVE.