When Rich and Chrissie Spanton first envisioned planting an orchard several years ago, they had one important goal: to grow apples in an environmentally conscious way for themselves and their community. From the first trees planted in spring of 2009, until our first harvest this fall, that goal has remained unchanged.
Our philosophy at Orchard Ridge Farms is simple: everything we do on the farm is connected. Any materials we use in the orchard are carried by the rain into the soil, flowing downward, back into our water table. Our decisions in growing apples affect the people who live and work here, our guests, and the wildlife around us. With that in mind, we choose to use all organic methods in our orchard. The decision seems simple, and in many ways it is, but growing apples organically in the Midwest requires a combination of time-tested knowledge from a century ago and cutting-edge innovations on the organic frontier. Organic does not mean no sprays are used in the orchard. Apple trees left alone will not produce good apples. Organic means we only use material in the orchard that is proven safe and will not harm the orchard’s ecosystem. Many of these sprays promote tree health to resist insects and disease, while others can be common substances like clay sprayed on the fruit that act as a barrier to insects looking for a snack.
Choosing to grow organically is also about not contributing to the environmental damage that agriculture has caused in the past. You may have seen news stories about banned chemicals, tainted drinking water, depleted soils, and long-term health problems faced by some farmers. Producing apples organically means steering our food system away from these dangers and toward a slower, more old-fashioned time in agriculture, when we bought our food from the farmer down the road, rather than shipped from the other side of the world.
Here, we intend to share our experiences raising a young orchard to fruition, and provide an insight into the day-to-day life of the orchard and farm, as well as the pleasures and challenges that come along with it.