Overcome COVID-19 cabin fever at your local apple orchard
By Bob Audette
Across Southern Vermont orchard managers are preparing for an unprecedented pick-your-own apple season.
“Consumers are looking for local food and they also are looking for fun experiences,” said Vermont Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts. “Pick-your-own operations offer great value and experiences while providing fresh food.”
Tebbetts said apple orchards, following the recommended precautions, could just be what so many people need after months of being cooped up at home.
“Pick-your-owns are playing an important role during the pandemic,” he said. “Consumers are looking for safe places to shop and what better place than an outdoor pick-your-own farm?”
“It is a tender and challenging time, yet spirits remain high and we are feeling positive for this season,” said Simon Renault, general manager of Scott Farm on Kipling Road in Dummerston, Vt.
At Scott Farm, as at all orchards in Vermont, in-person picking is being limited to one customer per 200-square-feet of orchard space.
All employees and customers in the pick-your-own area must practice social distancing and will be encouraged to wear face coverings. Some orchards might require appointments, so it’s important to call ahead, and on-site farm stores will also be limited to 25 percent occupancy.
“At the Scott Farm Market,” said Renault, “we will require face masks. We have setup a hand washing and sanitizing station and a one-way traffic flow through the building.”
One-way traffic flow will also be established in the orchards to prevent people from congregating or passing too close to each other.
Andrea Darrow, who owns and operates Green Mountain Orchard in Putney, Vt., with her husband, Evan, their son Casey and Evan’s brother, Matt, said a pick-your-own orchard might just be what the doctor ordered to overcome COVID-19 cabin fever.
“With everyone locked up in their houses so much, the orchard and the blueberry field is a great place to reconnect and meet up with family or other families, bring a picnic, pick and enjoy the fresh air,” she said. “We have lots of space.”
Green Mountain Orchards has set up washing stations and outdoor pay stations but it’s cavernous retail operation is also very welcoming, though visitors have to wear masks if they step inside.
“There are five overhead doors that are open,” said Darrow. “It’s very spacious and breezy.”
The Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development issued guidance for pick-your-own orchards, which recommends cashless and touch-less transactions.
While facial coverings are only recommended in the restart plan, orchards can ask their customers to wear them while on property and picking.
Picking containers must either be clean containers brought in by customers or disposable containers provided by the farm for customers to take home. Farms can also offer reusable containers that are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before each use.
One aspect of the restart plan might be difficult for some customers to adhere to — on-site consumption of food, including crops being picked, will not be allowed.
“All of our farm workers will be wearing face masks and offices and common areas are disinfected three times a day,” said Renault. “And all our bathrooms are cleaned and sanitized every day.”
Bob Audette has been writing for the Brattleboro Reformer for close to 15 years. When he’s not working or hanging out with his 6-year-old son, he can often be found on one of the many trails leading to the summit of Mount Monadnock, in southern New Hampshire.