Organic Fruit Production ( UVM PSS 195)

Instructor: John Hayden
Teaching Assistant: Morgan Cromwell

The Organic Fruit Production course at the University of Vermont, taught by John Hayden, an organic farmer himself, was filled to capacity during the Fall 2007 semester with 19 students. The course explored basic horticultural, ecological, and marketing concepts through hands-on learning. Weekly field trips were an important way for the students to see organic farming in a local setting and gain information from growers themselves about their practices and how they came to be farmers. In the classroom, the students studied the word ‘organic’ and what it means in today’s marketplace. Lectures on propagation, growth, flowering, pollination, fruit set, hardiness and post-harvest fruit storage gave the students background information about individual fruit species. Open-mindedness and critical thinking were highly encouraged and communication among students, instructors, and growers was essential to the overall learning experience.

Thoughts on our field trips…

The Farm Between
Jeffersonville, VT
John Hayden

The day could not have been more beautiful for our trip out to The Farm Between. John Hayden's farm depends on draft horses instead of power equipment and also tries to have a closed cycle, using energy from the sun to grow the grass to feed the cows and horses to power the farm and provide nutrients in the way of manure to the vegetables. After a short tour of John's pasture, vegetable fields and hoop houses, we learned about his high bush blueberries, black currants, and small, newly planted orchard. John emphasized the benefits of growing scab-resistant apple cultivars.

more pics!
River Berry Farm
Fairfax, VT
David Marchant

Today we learned about strawberry and raspberry production at River Berry Farm in Fairfax, VT. David showed the class about a trial he is conducting with different weights of black plastic used to keep weeds down in the strawberry rows, including the new biodegradable black film that is made from cornstarch. We also learned about the importance of site selection and how even slight slopes can cause air to settle and frost to kill off fruit, like his raspberries.

more pics!
Adam’s Berry Farm
The Intervale Burlington, VT
Adam Hausmann

Another beautiful day for a field trip. We didn’t travel far, just down to the Intervale to check out Adam’s Berry Farm. He has about five acres in production with blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries. Adam markets his goods at the Shelburne and New North End farmer’s markets as well as to local Burlington restaurants. He also has a thriving pick-your-own market. We learned about fall-bearing compared to summer-bearing raspberries and the benefits and challenges of both. Adam has ten different varieties of blueberries and some of the best looking plants any of us had ever seen.

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Champlain Orchards
Shoreham, VT
Bill Suhr

Today we traveled down to Shoreham to visit Bill Suhr and his yellow lab Pippen at Champlain Orchards. He grows over 25 varieties of apples as well as plums, peaches, cherries, and pears. He has some organic blocks as well as some IPM-managed ones. We learned about the benefits of his location because of topography and lake-effect weather preventing frost and slowing down the warming of spring. Bill talked about the trials and tribulations of his organic blocks and he emphasized the benefits of disease-resistant cultivars like ‘Liberty’ and ‘GoldRush’. I think all of us were in awe of his amazing orchard and of Bill himself. We learned about some of the business and finance sides of owning and managing an orchard. We left Champlain Orchards full of encouragement and optimism for our own possibilities of finding careers in what we love, and of course full of apples.

Shelburne Vineyard
Shelburne, VT
Ken Albert

Our tour started in the winery at Shelburne Vineyard. We met Ken Albert, a former electrical engineer for IBM turned grape grower and winemaker. We saw his state of the art crushing, de-stemming and bottling equipment. From there we walked out to one of his vineyard sites on Shelburne Farms. Here he grows ‘Cayuga White’, ‘Riesling’, ‘Vignoles’, as well as some of the fairly new Minnesota-developed varieties ‘La Crescent’ and ‘St. Croix’. Ken manages the less cold hardy vines with multiple trunks so to ensure that at least one will survive the winter. We visited a second site just down the road where he is building a new winery and tasting room, but also has some ‘Marquette’ (another Minnesota developed variety) planted this year and some planted two years ago. Overall, our trip taught us the beauty of winemaking as well as the challenges of organic grape production, such as black rot disease.

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Chapin Orchards
Essex, VT
Jim Bove

Our class trip today was just outside of Burlington at Chapin Orchards in Essex. We met the manager, Jim Bove, and learned about his IPM practices and discussed the benefits and challenges he would face if he managed the orchard organically. Chapin Orchard has many disease-resistant varieties, most prominently ‘Liberty’ and therefore would be a good choice for organic management. However, the market value and interest for ‘Liberty’ has to increase in order for the conversion from IPM to organic management to turn a profit. We all explored the orchard and had a “show-and-tell” of buggy and diseased apples, insect traps, and IPM management tools. It was a great hands-on learning experience and everyone picked a half-peck of apples to enjoy when we returned to campus.

more pics!
Boyden Valley Winery
Cambridge, VT
David Boyden

David grew up on Boyden Farm and converted the dairy farm into quite the local business. Between David and his brother Mark, they have local meat, ice cream, and winery. David grows about 7 acres of grapes on site, but also brings in grapes from other local growers from New Haven, VT and Benson, VT. David talked highly of the newer Minnesota varieties, ‘Frontenac’ and ‘La Crescent’. David does not manage organically, but purchases Vermont organic apples to make apple wine and Vermont organic black currants from The Farm Between, owned by John Hayden (our teacher). We looked at his ‘Frontenac’ vines and learned his strategy to keep at least 2-3 trunks to ensure winter survival of the vines. We finished the trip with some taste testing of some of his grape and fruit wines.

Pirate Cove Cranberry Bog
Fletcher, VT
Bob & Joe Lesnikoski

We felt privileged to visit the only cranberry bog in Vermont, just down the road from Boyden Valley Winery. Most of us had only seen cranberry bogs in Ocean Spray commercials and were very interested to hear Joe explain that the bogs are only flooded for water harvest and to protect the plants over the winter in ice. They have ‘Early Black’, ‘Pilgrims’, and ‘Stevens’ varieties planted in their lower two bogs. In addition to selling fresh berries, they also sell berries to Boyden Valley winery for Cranberry wine, and a cranberry horseradish sauce, cranberry raspberry jam, and cranberry grilling sauce. They are looking to expand to sell dried cranberries as well as their juice. We will all support Bob and his son, Joe, and this newfound market and buy Vermont cranberries!

City Market
Burlington, VT

We reduced our carbon footprint and walked down the hill to City Market and met with the manager of produce to learn about our local market. We saw many of the products of the farms we had visited earlier in the semester. It was an eye-opening experience to see how the food gets from the tree to the shelf and how hard it can be for growers to get their produce onto more shelves than that of their farmstand.

Stay tuned for the announcement of when the Organic Fruit Production course will be offered again...