A beautiful, winding drive up the hill gives scenic views of Vermont in the distance. The apple trees are in sight at the top of the hill and our excitement mounts as we approach. Alyson’s Orchard is situated on four hundred and thirty acres in Walpole, NH. As we pull into the parking lot, I am delighted to see the red farm stand because it looks so quintessential. Apples are their main crop, but they also grow peaches, plums, apricots, and vegetables, such as pumpkins and winter squash to add some variety. We meet Homer Dunn, the orchard manager, and he tells us about how Alyson’s got started.
Bob and Susan Jasse founded Alyson’s Orchard in 1981. “Bob used to be in the big corporate business, got involved in the space program, and built a worldwide business. And then about the ‘70’s, he got sick of the corporate world, sold it, and came up and started this,” explained Homer. The orchard now works to support its local community. The growing technique is Integrated Pest Management, or IPM. This method reduces the amount of sprays necessary for conventional growing methods. Homer said of IPM, “it’s something I believe in, but no matter where you are we got to be concerned about the farmer and how we do it, so it can be sustainable forever. I still feel that farmers are the cornerstone; if the farmer disappears, we’re in trouble.”
Alyson’s have mostly sold fruit wholesale, with shipments going as far as Texas. However, they have been working to increase the pick-your-own business. Homer says they joined Monadnock Menus because, “We should be buying local. It helps support the community and keeps local farmers in business. It only makes sense.” According to Homer, Alyson’s Orchard’s biggest problem with local wholesale products is delivery. Local businesses rarely buy enough volume for it to be profitable to spend the time, labor and fuel to deliver. With Monadnock Menus’ aggregation and delivery system, the burden is taken from the farmer and as Homer says if “I don’t have to bring it anywhere, that would work excellently.”
Increased local to access to Alyson’s apples means a larger selection of apples for those around the Monadnock Region. Alyson’s Orchard in unique here because they have over 48 different varieties of apples, including heirlooms. A new block is being created that will contain over 100 different varieties, including scion wood from the apple’s birthplace of Kazakhstan to be grafted onto rootstocks suited to New England. This orchard even contains a one-of-a-kind apple tree that is a mutation of a Macintosh; Homer has named it the Andrea Star, after his wife. Alyson’s Orchard is a welcoming place and Homer remarks on pick-your-own, “It’s still, I think, more or less a family experience. I’ve seen families here for 4 or 5 hours, just having a great time walking around, enjoying the place.” He continues that with increasing pick-you-own, developing a local wholesale business, and adding 100 new varieties, “the thing that still excites me about this place – is beginning to see it’s potential!”
by Erika Stimpson