Woodbine Orchards kicks off tour
WINCHESTER, Va. — At Woodbine Orchards, this year’s first farm stop on the Maryland State Horticultural Society’s Summer Tour, Dr. Chris Walsh, tour host and a professor at the University of Maryland, pointed out to the more than three dozen attendees that they wouldn’t “see the trellises as with last year’s tour.”
Rather, the apple orchards on this year’s tour would encompass “Geneva rootstocks with freestanding or minimally supported trees.”
The morning began with a trio of research updates at Virginia Tech’s Alson H. Smith Agricultural Research and Extension Center, and then quickly moved a couple miles down the road to Woodbine, the first of two large, multi-generational family farms featured on this year’s tour.
At Woodbine, a Virginia “Century Farm” established in 1898, the attendees loaded into two wagons for a comprehensive look at the orchards behind Woodbine’s wholesale and retail operations.
Of special interest to those present was an example of apple union decline and necrosis that had begun surfacing in Woodbine’s plantings of Cripps Pink, which is marketed as the Pink Lady apple variety. The issue is particularly problematic because, as noted by Mike Smith, Woodbine’s operations manager, “it isn’t something that happens in the first year.” Indeed, the tree example shown to the tour involved a more mature tree, already in fruit production when it had succumbed.
According to Smith, the orchard “lost over 50% of the planting” to an as yet undetermined cause. In response to queries about probable causes for the sudden decline, Bill Mackintosh, owner of Mackintosh Fruit Farms in Berryville, Virginia and a consultant for the University of Maryland Extension, said, “If it’s a virus, then it’s something we don’t test for.”
The wagon tour’s last stop provided a detailed discussion about how to protect against deer damage. Although Woodbine has had a good amount of success using fragrant soaps, particularly the lavender-scented Fabuloso brand, Smith noted wryly, “having a major highway near you is your best protection against deer.”
In contrast to Woodbine, the tour’s next stop at West Oak Farm Market focused primarily on the farm’s retail side and its burgeoning agritourism operations. After a box lunch prepared in the counter-service restaurant with fruit from West Oaks’ peach orchards, and served in the expansive pavilion next to their year-old event venue, Levi Snapp, one of the farm’s newest generation of owners, conducted a tour of the pick-your-own fields that surround the roughly 20,000 square-foot agritourism facility.
Sitting on more than 200 acres, the barn-like facility comprises a second major expansion of the Snapps’ farm operations, which date back to a land grant from Lord Fairfax in 1755. “About 15 years ago, we saw an opportunity for retail,” explained Snapp, who with his mother Mary handles the retail and event side of the farm’s operations.
“We started by selling sweet corn off of a truck,” he continued, “and as agritourism has continued to be a growing part of the industry, we decided to find a place” where they could continue to grow that side of their operations.
His father Joe, who, with Levi’s brother Ben, manages the farm’s cattle and orchards at their original location, added in a later conversation, “We found the retail aspect would provide more sustainability than traditional cows and orchards.”
Although the event facility has only been open since May 2018, for the last three years, the Snapps have been doing pick-your-own strawberries, pumpkins, and sunflowers in the surrounding fields, in addition to offering vegetables grown at both of their locations. Next year, they plan to offer pick-your-own apples in the orchards planted behind the facility.
Although they hadn’t fully narrowed down how they would handle the orchard’s sales next year, Levi stated that he had worked out how they would handle the afternoon or evening weddings scheduled for next year’s peak fall months. “We certainly understand that a wedding party may not want to have members of the public frolicking in the background of their wedding photos.
“So, we’ll have peak season wedding prices if we have to close (the orchards) to make up for that lack of retail sales.”
Due to a combination of the later than planned afternoon hour and the summer heat, only about a half of the attendees made it to the Arterra Winery, the tour’s final stop. Once there, Jason Murray, a former 4-H member from Maryland’s Howard County, explained the principles behind “making wine on a minimalist philosophy.”
Over the next hour or so, Murray comprehensively covered how his “self-survival model winery” implements “a biological system that manages the environment so that the wine can thrive and make itself.” And, afterwards, the hardy souls who had made to his winery had an opportunity to taste the fruits of his labors.
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