Here’s What You Should Know About Apple Season This Year

If you want to get technical about it, apple season officially started back on September 1st. But if you’re anything like us—feeling just a smidge of denial that summer is over—it’s possible that typical fall activities like apple picking haven’t been exactly top of mind.

Turns out, we may be rewarded for our procrastination—according to author and apple expert Dan Bussey, the best apples are those that actually ripen later, around October through December.

So, as the calendar inches ever deeper into autumn, maybe now is the time to visit one of the many family-owned apple orchards near New York City! But don’t book your trip before you read these five things:

  1. Above Average: Despite a challenging growing year (think frost, hail, and drought, to name a few), New York growers are on track to pick some 30 million bushels of apples this year, slightly above the states average crop of 28.6 million. New York is the largest apple-producer east of the Mississippi, and second only to Washington state nationally.
  2. Smaller but Sweeter: About that aforementioned drought—the lack of water, while stressful for trees, made this year’s apples crunchier and sweeter. With less water content, the concentration of sugar in each fruit is higher, even though they may be a bit more petite. Sounds good to us!
  3. Hard to Pick Just One: New York grows more apple varieties than any other state, and that includes classics like McIntosh, Empire, and Red Delicious, as well as new favorites like Honeycrisp and Ginger Gold. Some types aren’t even available in stores, only at roadside stands or orchards.
  4. A Family Affair: There are nearly 700 commercial apple growers in New York State, and many of them are family-owned businesses that have been passed down from generation to generation. When you support those growers, you’re supporting farm families and keeping jobs here in New York State…not to mention keeping some 55,000 acres in farmland.
  5. Go Beyond: In addition to fresh apples, New York State is also home to 22 cideries, so you can grab a bottle with your bushel. And, don’t forget, New York City Cider Week is coming October 21-30! And do we even need to mention apple cider donuts?

Now that you’re in the know, check out this list of the best apple orchards near New York City—go forth and pick!

Freshly picked apples. Photo credit: Shinya Suzuki/Creative Commons


New York Ranks High in Apple, Grape Production

If you can find it in your cold, iced-over, Vitamin D-deprived heart, consider this: New York has three other seasons besides winter. And during those seasons, things grow here—things that aren’t blackened snow piles pocked with dog poop and uncollected garbage.

Plants, even!

To remind you of this miracle, and give you something to peruse while it snows (yes, again), the USDA recently released the Noncitrus Fruits and Nuts Summary for 2014, a descriptively-named guide to U.S. fruit production numbers by state.

In typical New York fashion, the Empire State ranks high, coming in second in the country for apple production, and third for grapes. The news comes as New York celebrates a record agricultural sales year in 2013 and a range of other farm-based successes.

Leader of the Pack

According to the report, New York is home to 40,000 acres of apple orchards producing an estimated 1.26 billion pounds of apples in 2014. That puts New York second in the nation, a ranking it has maintained since 1996. Only Washington State produces more.

Remember spring, summer, and fall? We will see them again. Photo credit: Porsche Brosseau / Creative Commons.

According to the New York Apple Association, there are 694 commercial apple growers in the state, who tend more than 10 million trees. These orchardists coax fruit from more than 20 varieties, from the familiar Fuji, Gala, and Golden Delicious, to the more obscure RubyFrost, Zestar, and Northern Spy. Some of these heirloom types can only be found at roadside stands or at the orchards themselves.

The NYAA estimates that 53 percent of the annual apple harvest is sold as fresh-market fruit, with the remainder being processed into juice, cider, and canned products.

A Bushel and a Peck… and a Bottle

As you might expect in a state with high apple production, New York also has a thriving hard cider industry. That’s thanks in part to a relatively new piece of legislation signed by Governor Cuomo.

There are more than 50 cider producers in New York State. Photo via NY Cider Week.

The Farm Cidery law took effect in January 2014, creating a new license available to small, craft farm cideries that use crops grown exclusively in New York State. Previously, cider production was allowed only under a brewery or winery license.

The new legislation releases cider-makers from some of the more stringent restrictions placed upon brewers and winemakers, while permitting sales at farmers markets and other direct-to-consumer outlets. It also creates a market for “seconds” apples—fruit that would otherwise go to waste.

So far, 11 farm cideries in New York have been granted a license, a number which is expected to grow in coming years.

Additional legislation drafted by Senator Chuck Schumer would decrease the federal tax on hard cider to the same rate as the tax on beer (currently it is taxed at the same rate as wine).

On the Vine

Not to be outdone, New York’s grape growers also ranked high in the USDA report, coming in third in the country, behind California and Washington.

Grapes in the vine at Benmarl Winery in Marlborough, NY. Photo credit: Young Sok Yun/Creative Commons.

More than 37,000 acres across the state are dedicated to the production of grapes. In the wake of a very harsh winter following the best crop in the state’s history, grape growers produced 5.08 tons per acre of grapes in 2014 with crop production totaling $69.4 million.

As for other fruits, well, the Empire State’s no slouch there either: New York also ranks in the top 10 in the blueberry, peach, pear, strawberry, and sweet/tart cherries industries.

NY Announces $20.5 Million for Farmland Protection

State officials announced yesterday that for the first time in five years, a significant amount of funding will be available to help protect New York State’s vulnerable farmland.

More than $20 million will be handed out over the next year to organizations, municipalities, counties, and not-for-profit organizations to fund protection efforts that keep viable agricultural land from being converted to non-agricultural use.

From the press release:

“Protecting and maintaining farmland is vital to supporting the continued growth of New York’s robust agricultural industries,” Governor Cuomo said.

“Farming supports jobs, businesses and economic activity in communities across the State, ultimately representing a cornerstone of our State’s economy. This funding will help to make sure that farms are kept in production, given the tools to grow, and ensure support for farmers and their families.”

A Pressing Issue

Photo credit: Keith Mountain
Photo credit: Keith Mountain

Nationwide, an acre of farmland is lost to real estate development every minute of every day. In the Northeast, this loss is particularly extreme; according to the American Farmland Trust, New York has lost more than 452,000 acres of farmland to development since the 1980s.

Nationwide, an acre of farmland is lost to real estate development every minute of every day.

The USDA’s 2012 Census of Agriculture results released this month shows that the nation’s farmers are also continuing to age. In New York State, the average age of a farmer has increased to 57, nearly 17 years older than the age of the average American worker.

As these farmers begin to age out of the workforce, millions of acres of farmland in the United States will either transition to the next generation or be lost to development, making permanent protection efforts vital.

A New Strategy

Photo credit: Joshua Bousel via Creative Commons
Photo credit: Joshua Bousel via Creative Commons

Protection efforts through New York’s Farmland Protection Program will come primarily in the form of permanent conservation easements, however the state has dedicated $2 million of the funding to a new “incentive payment agreement” program, also known as “lease of development rights.”

This trial program would allow eligible entities to make multi-year commitments to landowners, working with the landowners to seek other funding arrangements to effectively create a perpetual conservation easement on these lands. The press release states that “this particular tool has been identified in municipal agricultural and farmland protection plans adopted across New York.”

Application materials and important webinar information for the Farmland Protection Implementation Grants are available for download on the Department of Agriculture and Markets website. Application materials are also available by calling the Department directly at 1-800-554-4501.

Obama Announces Regional “Climate Hubs”

The Obama administration announced Wednesday the creation of seven regional “climate hubs” designed to help farmers, ranchers, and rural communities combat the effects of climate change, including drought, floods, pests, and fires.

New York State will be serviced by the Northeast Hub, stationed in Durham, New Hampshire.

The move is one of several executive actions that President Obama has said he will take on climate change without action from Congress.

According to an article by Think Progress:

…the centers will look into climate forecasting and data, risk assessment, and how to adapt farming and livestock practices to climate change and new forms of extreme weather. They’ll also serve as an information and coordination hub for their particular region, linking farmers and ranchers up with universities, government agencies, scientific research centers, and other groups in an effort to spread the best farming practices and the best climate adaptation strategies.
These hubs are intended to help the federal government synchronize its climate resources with what other entities, such as universities and state governments are doing to prepare for shifting weather patterns.

Response to this announcement has been mixed, primarily because designation as a hub comes with no new funding or resources; rather the centers will focus on “repackaging climate change information… in user-friendly ways and getting it into the hands of the people who need it most.”

Hubs will be located in USDA facilities and will network with on-the-ground public, academic, and private sector organizations, researchers, and outreach specialists in order to disseminate information and guidance on technologies and risk management practices at regional and local scales.

How does this move fit into the President’s larger climate agenda? The New York times analyzes it this way:

In substance, the creation of the climate hubs is a limited step, but it is part of a broader campaign by the administration to advance climate policy wherever possible with executive authority. The action is also part of a push to build political support for the administration’s more divisive moves on climate change — in particular, the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations on coal-fired power plants.

Hubs will be located in Ames, Iowa; Corvallis, Oregon; Durham, New Hampshire; El Reno, Oklahoma; Fort Collins, Colorado; Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Raleigh, North Carolina.

Image credit: USDA

Hudson Valley “Farm Hub” To Preserve Land, Educate Young Farmers

An innovative Hudson Valley project may soon have a storied parcel of farmland producing new farmers in addition to fruits and vegetables.

At the end of December 2013, the NoVo Foundation—run by Warren Buffett’s son Peter and his wife Jennifer—announced that it had purchased Gill Farm, a 75-year-old family-run vegetable operation covering more than 1,200 acres, for $13 million.

The Foundation intends to eventually transfer the property to an independent nonprofit organization that will operate it as a “farm hub”—a center dedicated to sustainable agriculture, farmer training, and related services.

Stemming the Tide of Development

Located just 100 miles from New York City in the town of Hurley, the Hudson Valley Farm Hub aims to become a regional farming center for sustainable agriculture by offering training and other services, all with the goal of preserving valuable farmland and educating a new generation of growers.

The need for such a project is great: The American Farmland Trust figures show that New York has been losing farmland at a rate equivalent to one farm every 3½ days. In fact, the Hudson Valley’s core counties—Columbia, Dutchess, Greene, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster and Westchester—lost more than 10,000 farms and more than one million farm acres between 1950 and 2007, according to federal statistics.

The new Farm Hub will offer beginning and established farmers a range of resources, including:

  • Hands-on training in sustainable farming practices to meet modern-day challenges;
  • Marketing assistance to help grow their businesses;
  • Information on cutting-edge practices and technologies that promote resilient agriculture;
  • Assistance with secure and affordable access to land; and
  • Expanded access to capital to establish and expand their farming operations.

A central part of the program will be the creation of “incubator farms,” plots ranging from three to 20 acres to be worked by new farmers without the pressures of finding and investing in affordable land.

Making the Transition

While excitement for the project, which could eventually be the largest incubator project in the country, is running high, there are lingering concerns among Hudson Valley residents about its scale and impact.

While the Hub aims to eventually turn out new local farmers and business owners, there will be some immediate job losses—up to 100 migrant workers who found employment at Gill Farm will be displaced by this transition.

Other established farmers have expressed concern about changes to the grower community created by an influx of young farmers, and the ability for existing growers to compete with a flood of “foundation-supported” vegetables.

Bob Dandrew, a representative for the project, tried to address some of these concerns at a December press conference. “We know in New York City alone, there is unmet demand for local food of more than $1 billion a year. I’m convinced if we do it right, we can help our farmers get access to that market and make really great things happen, ” said Dandrew. Assistance in developing a cohesive marketing strategy will be part of the incubator process.

It also helps that John Gill, the farm’s current owner and life-long Ulster County resident, will be involved in the transition of the property from private farm to education and research center and will remain in the position of Farm Manager.

“It’s always been important to me that our farm remains a working farm – this way I can preserve my grandfather’s and my father’s legacy,” said Gill at the press event.  “I’m really happy that I’ll be involved in the next chapter, and to know that the farm will always remain viable and help prepare future generations of farmers.”

Master planning for the new Farm Hub will begin in early 2014 and programs are slated to begin operations on-site by the spring of 2015.