“One year a hail storm came through and created specks on the apples, so they couldn’t be sold to wholesalers,” says Josh Morgenthau, the third generation of his family to manage Fishkill Farms, a 270-acre operation in Hopewell Junction. “They decided to put up signs and let the community come and pick their own. It turned out they did better than ever. There was no turning back.”
That was in the 1960s. Fifty years later, on autumn weekends, the farm gets thousands of visitors. “We have 150 acres in production and about 60 acres of apples, and we open most of that to you-pick,” Morgenthau says. Besides apples, the you-pick offers berries, veggies, and other fruits in season. A crew harvests for five farmers’ markets, an on site farm store, CSA shares, and wholesale clients; all told, about 15,000 40-pound bushels were harvested in 2015.
Morgenthau is passionate about organic growing and heritage strains; a bonus for the visiting picker is having over 80 varieties to choose from. “Some of the heritage varieties have better tolerance for pests and diseases,” he says, “and over half of our apple acreage is organic now, with an incredible range of colors, tastes, and textures. Cox’s Orange Pippin, Esopus Spitzenberg, Ashmead’s Kernel—you won’t find those in the supermarket next to the Macintosh and Red Delicious. You have to go straight to the farm.”
Self-service apples cost about the same per pound as at the farm stand; any savings on labor are balanced out by the costs of hospitality. Morgenthau says there’s an intangible that the numbers can’t capture. “We get locals and people from every neighborhood and socioeconomic background in New York,” he says, “and for the visitor, coming to a farm and picking fresh produce puts you in touch with your food in ways that you just can’t be otherwise. And we get to connect with the people eating, who appreciate our hard work. The experience of having the public come in is rewarding on both sides of the equation.”
The farm provides the containers. On weekends, burgers, hotdogs, veggie burgers, and organic veggies are served fresh from its apple-wood grill; during the week, visitors are welcome to bring food and (nonalcoholic) beverage for a picnic.
There are flashier farms. “We don’t really do the full-scale ‘agri-tainment’ thing with a corn maze and a bouncy castle,” says Morgenthau. “We do try to make it festive. We have bands, hayrides, arts and crafts for the kids. The whole experience is very family friendly.”
“The joy on someone’s face when they’re back in an orchard where their parents or grandparents brought them in the ’70s or ’80s, that’s priceless. And now that social media keeps us connected, we get people posting pictures for us of their toddler picking her first apple. You can’t get that at the supermarket; I can’t get that just by packing everything off to the wholesaler.”