Aug 30, 2018
EcoApple supports sustainable, locally grown fruit in the Northeast. 

As apple-picking begins across the Northeast, some of the region’s leading fruit growers are working together to promote a high standard of growing practices especially developed for the unique growing conditions of the region. A network of pick-your-own and wholesale orchards, from Vermont to Pennsylvania, will promote their ecologically grown fruit and regional identity as part of the EcoApple program.

Seventeen Northeast orchards representing 1,700 acres of fruit are certified as EcoApple for 2018. Two new orchards have joined the program this year. Ricker Hill Orchard in Turner, Maine, one of the largest orchards in Maine and a longtime producer of organic fruit, will add 100 acres of Eco-certified fruit for 2018. Three Springs Orchard in Aspers, Pennsylvania, plans to become certified in 2019.

 Challenges facing Northeast growers

The EcoApple program was developed to meet a need for ecological orchard standards appropriate for the Northeast climate and growing conditions. The result of almost 15 years of collaboration between growers and science advisors, it is a rigorous, ecology-based farming and third-party certification program that supports and rewards farmers who use the most eco-sensitive, minimally treated, natural methods possible to grow their fruit.

Apple growers in the Eastern U.S. face more than sixty species of damaging insects, and twice as many diseases compared to the drier climates of the Pacific Northwest. Over 93 percent of certified organic apples grown in the US come from eastern Washington, where organic-approved production is a good fit for conditions there.

EcoApple offers growers and consumers a way to support sustainably grown local fruit in the Northeast. Eco practices include managing damaging pestswith biological methods such as natural predators, mating disruption, and trapping as their first line of defense. Growers promote soil and tree health, nurture pollinators, and protect biodiversity to ensure balanced ecosystems and safer working conditions, all while producing top quality fruit.

The idea for Eco Apple grew out of a conversation between non-profit Red Tomato, a Massachusetts based nonprofit food hub, and fruit growers who were committed to using advanced ecological practices but had a hard time gaining recognition in the marketplace for their efforts. Started with six orchards on 400 acres in 2004, today there are 17 orchards and over 1,700 acres enrolled.

“We are especially proud that the program addresses specific farming challenges for this region, and helps these farms to remain vibrant and sustainable. We want the Northeast’s great apples and beautiful orchards to be with us for many generations to come,” said Susan Futrell, the program’s director.

Apple growers  having an impact

Analysis conducted last year shows use of high-risk chemicals among Eco-certified orchards has decreased 59 percent since 2004, the year before the program began, and has continued to drop 18 percent since 2010. Growers and scientists review practices annually based on current research, and have steadily replaced more high-risk approaches with biological and lower-risk methods as they become available. Eco Apple orchards are certified by the IPM Institute of North America, a non-profit based in Madison, Wisconsin.

All practices and substances allowed in the Eco protocol are screened to minimize risk to pollinators, human health, and wildlife, and the most toxic treatments on fruit are prohibited entirely. “The pressure from pests and disease in an orchard can vary from year to year due to weather and other conditions, but the goal of the Eco program is to steadily reduce overall risk over time. We are encouraged to see the data indicate that is happening,” said Thomas Green, entomologist and president of the IPM Institute.

Eco-certified orchards are harvesting now, and many are open for Pick Your Own and farm sales, as well as having apples available in regional grocery stores. They have a good supply of national favorites, including Honeycrisp, and Gala, as well as popular – and sometimes harder-to-find – regional specialties like McIntosh, Macoun, Cortland, and Empire. Heirloom varieties, with unique history, shapes, colors and flavors, are also available from many orchards.

2018 certified Eco Apple producers are:

Blue Hills Orchard, Wallingford, Connecticut

Lyman Orchards, Middlefield, Connecticut

Rogers Orchards, Southington, Connecticut

Champlain Orchards, Shoreham, Vermont

Scott Farm, Dummerston, Vermont

Sunrise Orchards, Cornwall, Vermont

Clark Brothers Orchards, Ashfield, Maryland

Davidian Brothers Farm, Northborough, Maryland

Phoenix Fruit Farm, Belchertown, Maryland

Ricker Hill Orchards, Turner, Maine

Schlegel Fruit Farm, Dalmatia, Pennsylvania

Fishkill Farms, Hopewell Junction, New York

Indian Ladder Farms, Altamont, New York

Kleins Kill Fruit Farm, Germantown, New York

Mead Orchards, Tivoli, New York

Orbaker’s Fruit Farm, Williamson, New York

Sullivan Orchards, Peru, New York

Red Tomato is a non-profit on a mission to change the food system for the better. Working with trusted farmers, distributors and grocers, they connect the Northeast region’s farmers and eaters to a better food system: one that treats farmers and farm workers fairly, cares for the environment, and provides food that tastes great and makes a difference. Their logistics, sales and marketing programs bring the freshest locally and regionally grown fruits and vegetables to people where they shop and eat everyday. For more information, visit http://www.redtomato.org/eco





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