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Happy Valley grows apples the old-fashioned way

MIDDLEBURY In a fast paced world filled with one-stop-shopping, even things like fruit shopping have become a chore of sorting through endless product displays just to find exactly what youre looking for. Fortunately, on Quarry Road in Middlebury, stands a small, family-run operation that isnt influenced by all the distractions Happy Valley Orchard. Happy Valley Orchard is a taste of simplicity. The orchard, owned by Stan and Mary Pratt, is operated primarily by family members. The Pratts have cousins on tractors, sisters growing vegetables, nieces, nephews, and even daughter, Eva, at the cash register. Were all working together, so thats a treat, said Mary. With over 50 varieties of apples, including many old-fashioned varieties, visitors can choose an old standby or discover a new favorite. Customers also enjoy picking their own apples In the days when I was young, the local people used to get together and do all the apple picking, said Mary. Orchards have changed. Many are no longer maintained by local people; most hire migrant workers to harvest fruit. Also, many commercial orchards are doing high-density planting. With this kind of growing, trees are planted 5 to 9 feet apart (as opposed to the traditional 20-35 feet) and grown on a device similar to a trellis. High-density planting results in a higher yield but looks more like a vineyard than an orchard. Happy Valley Orchard has resisted the change and maintains the traditional pick-your-own orchard. People want to know who is raising their food, added Mary. All the produce and items sold at Happy Valley are locally grown. As with any agricultural business large or small there are always challenges. The weather is a challenge for growing apples, the Pratts mentioned. Weve had a lot of rain which is good for the trees, but too much also causes a fungus. That fungus is one of the main concerns in raising apples. Once a fungus contaminates an apple, it results in a scab. Scab is harmless to eat, but unfortunately destroys the aesthetics of the apple, thus making it unmarketable. Despite the hardships of recent Vermont rain storms, the Pratts still find a lot of joy. A trip to Happy Valley Orchard is an adventure for the whole family. Kids of all ages love to pick their own apples, tasting as they go. For those with little legs, they dont have to walk far; before even entering the building you will come across an apple tree. Happy Valleys famous cider donuts are also a nice autumn treat for those young and old. Happy Valley is a rare orchard and should be part of any Addison County tour. Whether hand picking a bag of apples or stopping for a fresh bag of corn, customers are always sure to have a decidely Vermont experience. Note: Freelance writer Karissa Pratt is a relative of Happy Valley Orchards Pratt family.

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