Sunrise Orchards’ Quest to Grow Perfect Apples
Christiana and Barney Hodges purposely keep a close eye on bugs. Monitoring the population of insects in their more than 40-year-old orchard helps them decide how to treat their apple trees. By following a strict growing program called EcoApple protocol and Integrated
Pest Management, Vermont-based Sunrise Orchards has grown into one of the Northeast’s most prominent orchards. They produce more than 130,000 bushels of apples each year, including popular apples like McIntosh, Empire, Cortland, Macoun and Granny Smith.
The Hodges’ family transformed a 200-acre dairy farm into an orchard in the 1970s in the Champlain Valley, an area of Vermont known for farms and outstanding orchards. Working with distributors Black River Produce, Reinhart and non-profit Red Tomato have helped them expand into Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
“We love what we do even though it’s super challenging,” says Christiana Hodges. “Growing apples isn’t easy. Most consumers expect the fruit to be free from blemishes, taste delicious and be about the right size.”
“We are a company, with a brand, but behind it we are a family with 60,000 trees in our yard.”/p>
“We are growing food outside; out in nature. People forget about all of the pressures that are in the natural world,” says Hodges. She knows the way they approach growing apples is what is makes theirs some of the best.
They helped develop the EcoApple program with non-profit organization Red Tomato, other growers in the Northeast and scientists from Cornell University and the University of Massachusetts. The protocol supports and rewards environmentally responsive growing practices to strive for superior local food and a better planet.
At Sunrise Orchards that can mean pruning and shaping trees in the winter to increase their light and productivity. The rest of the year, they work tirelessly to prune and remove brush, bring in 150 hives of bees, mow the fallen leaves, monitor insects and fungus, and only apply spray when weather conditions or trap captures warrant treatment. Harvesting at the right time is also key to the apples’ success; not picking too early or too late is important. Hodges says storage is essential to the overall health of the apple. “We want to feel good about the food that we ship out of our orchard. We pay attention to the details and quality of each season.”
Sunrise Orchards is continuously aiming to be innovative in its approach to growing apples while also being conservative. Moving forward, they hope to keep an eye on the cider market to provide existing and new cider varieties to appeal to the hard cider consumer.