Orchard marks 13 years of selling apples to Frederick County Public Schools
THURMONT, Md. — A visit to Thurmont Elementary School in Frederick County on Grandparents Day more than a decade ago opened a door to a local farmer to sell local produce to local schools throughout this Maryland county.
“We were visiting our granddaughter, Katlyn Robertson, at her school,” said Bob Black of Catoctin Mountain Orchard. “At lunch, we saw that the school was serving the kids Red Delicious apples from Washington state.”
He said many of the apples were small in size and he watched kids eat a bite or two of an apple and then throw it away.
“The flavor just wasn’t there,” Black said. “The kids didn’t like the taste so they would just throw away the apples. I knew that the kids would likely enjoy the taste of our apples if they had the opportunity.”
That view was proven correct after Frederick County Public Schools began buying apples from Catoctin Mountain Orchard in 2011.
“The initial order was for about 40 bushels of Gala apples,” Black said. “The apples were a hit with the kids. The schools then ordered 70 more bushels, then 85 bushels, then 100, and then 125 bushels of apples. The students really enjoyed our fresh, locally-grown apples.”
Now, Catoctin Mountain Orchard supplies several varieties of apples to the school district, including such varieties as Crimson Crisp, Empire, Evercrisp, Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith.
“We mix up the varieties of apples,” Black said. “We use up to four different varieties of apples in each delivery to the school food warehouse. They then mix the apple varieties for each of the schools.”
Catoctin Mountain Orchard covers about 100 acres in the Thurmont area of Frederick County.
About 25 acres are used to grow apples, with the other acreage used to grow peaches, cherries (both sweet and sour), apricots, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and other fruits and vegetables.
The farm also grows zinnias, Black-eyed Susans, and other varieties of flowers on about a half-acre plot of ground.
In addition to selling produce to the local schools, Catoctin Mountain Orchard also features its own farm market.
“Much of our produce is sold through our retail market,” said Black. “We also invite people to come and pick their own fruit and berries. In addition, we encourage people to come and pick-their-own flowers from our fields.”
Beyond apples, Frederick County Public Schools has also purchased peaches, nectarines, plums, and pears from Catoctin Mountain Orchard. Seasonal availability and funding are two of the factors that impact what produce is provided to the local schools.
“There’s an effort to have kids experience a variety of local foods,” Black said. “For example, we’ve provided kiwiberries to several schools in the City of Frederick. We grow these berries on about half-an-acre of land. The kiwiberries are the size of grapes, but look like little apples. The kids really enjoy eating the kiwiberries.”
In Delaware, one of the active participants in the Farm to School Program in the First State is the Brandywine School District.
This district includes 33 square miles of northern New Castle County, including a portion of the City of Wilmington as well as Claymont, Brandywine Hundred, Bellefonte, and Arden.
“In spring, we purchase strawberries and asparagus for all schools,” said Colleen Carter, School Nutrition Supervisor of the Brandywine School District. “For back-to-school, we are purchasing peaches, watermelon, corn on the cob and apples. The growing season will allow for us to continue purchasing apples into November and possibly December. In October, we plan to purchase pumpkins for the first time.”
“Currently, we order from Fifer Farms in Camden-Wyoming, Del.,” Carter continued. “I have recently joined the State Farm to School Committee, as the New Castle County Supervisor representative. Our mission is to expand Farm to School and develop an integrated network to link childcare programs, schools, communities, farmers, and vendors to enhance the health and empower Delaware children to consume local and nutritious products.”
Carter said including locally-grown vegetables and fruits in school nutrition programs helps the schools in their overall mission to promote healthy eating.
“We participate in Farm to School to provide wholesome, local products,” Carter said. “My goal in joining the State Farm to School Committee is to continue to grow and expand our connections with local farmers and be able to increase our offerings to students and staff.”
Catoctin Mountain Orchard’s Black agreed with that goal to provide local farm products to schools.
“If we can change the eating habits of the students, we will have healthier kids,” he said. “And we’ll have future consumers who want fresh produce from local farms.”