Sep 5, 2019
Northeast orchards launch 2019 season with Eco certification

A network of farmers dedicated to finding the most ecological way to grow top quality fruit in the Northeast have certified over 1,400 acres of apples and stone fruit for the 2019 season. The partnership, Eco Apple, provides consumers with just-picked Northeast fruit that has been grown with the health of humans and the earth in mind.

Fourteen orchards have earned Eco Apple certification for the 2019 season, representing a diverse group of farms in six states. Some, like Lyman Orchards in Connecticut and Clark Brothers Orchards in western Massachusetts, helped found the program and have been certified for 15 years ormore. Others, like Phoenix Fruit Farm in Massachusetts, and Ricker Hill Orchards in Maine, have joined more recently. The opportunity to collaborate with like-minded growers, and the certification and marketing support that helps them educate customers about their growing methods, are among the reasons they invest the extra effort it takes to certify.  But ultimately, they see the Eco program’s sustainable approach to growing fruit as just the right thing to do. 

 “The Eco Apple program aligns with our philosophy perfectly,” said Greg Parzych, co- president of Rogers Orchards in Southington, Connecticut. The family orchard, founded in 1809, is one of the largest in Connecticut and a longtime participant in the program. “As stewards of the land, we strive to raise a viable and high quality crop in the most ecologically responsible way,” added Parzych.

 Apple growers in the eastern U.S. face intense insect and disease pressures compared to the drier climates in the Pacific Northwest: many more damaging insects and twice as many diseases as growers in western states. While over 93% of the certified organic apples grown in the U.S. come from eastern Washington, Eco-certified orchards offer a reliable source of sustainably grown, local fruit for the Northeast. 

 Many of the orchards have their own farmstands and invite customers to pick-your-own, in addition to having their fruit available through grocery stores across the region. “We have a loyal, enthusiastic community that looks forward to our fruit every year,” said Joe Nuciforo of Mead Orchards in Tivoli, New York. “They want local farms to thrive, and we want them to know we are looking out for their well-being as well as the soil, water and wildlife around us.”

Eco-certified orchards use bio-intensive practices that support pollinator health, minimize risk to humans and wildlife, and nurture a healthy environment. The IPM Institute of North America, which along with non-profit Red Tomato helped launched the Eco program in 2005, reviews audit data from Eco-certified orchards each year. A recent analysis showed a 59% decrease in the use of high-risk treatments between 2004 and 2016 by orchards in the program. Analysis of the data over time will provide further insights into advances in orchard management practices, and trends in pesticide usage and pollinator health.

 Participating orchards, along with Red Tomato, are increasing their efforts to connect apple fans and consumers with Eco-certified farms near them.  This year an expanded digital media outreach campaign will link Eco-certified orchards across the region, and feature stories and images throughout the harvest season.  To follow Eco Apple on social media, visit Red Tomato’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/RedTomatoProduce and Instagram at @redtomatoproduce.

Eco-certified orchards expect a bountiful crop this season, with top quality apples available through the winter, spring and into next summer.  Early varieties like Ginger Gold are available now, followed by Honeycrisp, Gala, and popular regional specialties like McIntosh, Macoun, Cortland, Empire, and many heirloom varieties.  Check with individual orchards for dates, varieties, and pick your own options. 

 2019 Certified Eco Apple® Orchards:

Blue Hills Orchard – Wallingford, Connecticut

Lyman Orchards – Middlefield, Connecticut

Rogers Orchard – Southington, Connecticut

Clark Brothers Orchard – Ashfield,Massachusetts,

Davidian’s Farm – Northborough, Massachusetts,

Phoenix Fruit Farm—Belchertown,Massachusetts,

Champlain Orchards – Shoreham, Vermont

Sunrise Orchards – Cornwall, Vermont

Fishkill Farms—Hopewell Junction, New York

Indian Ladder Farms – Altamont, New York

Mead Orchards – Tivoli, New York

Orbaker’s Fruit Farm – Williamson, New York

K. Schlegel Fruit Farm – Dalmatia, Pennsylvania

Ricker Hill Orchards–Turner, Maine

* Also certified for Eco Stone Fruit in 2019.

The Eco Apple program is a third party growing and certification program, a partnership between farmers and science advisors to advance the most progressive and environmentally responsible growing practices for tree fruit in the Northeast. Orchards are certified annually by the IPM Institute of North America, based on a rigorous protocol, verified by an annual audit and regular on-farm inspections. The protocol is updated each year to incorporate current research and best practices. Begun in 2005 with six orchards on 400 acres, the program now includes 14 orchards and over 1400 acres certified for the 2019 season.

Red Tomato is a nonprofit on a mission to change the food system for the better. They work with farmers, distributors and grocers to bring the freshest locally and regionally grown fruits and vegetables to people where they shop and eat every day. Red Tomato develops marketing, education, programs and partnerships to build a more sustainable food system and a better future. www.redtomato.org





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