An Apple a Day ... Heck, Why Stop at One?
By Cheryl A. Cuddahy
Early autumn is a magical time of year for many reasons, but apples -- whether they’re red, green, yellow or pink -- are surely high on the tree ... er, list.
There are so many wonderful orchards throughout central Massachusetts where you can pick your own apples or buy them by bushel or peck, but I am lucky to have one of my favorites in my own backyard -- Sholan Farms.
Sholan Farms is owned by Leominster and operated by the Friends of Sholan Farms, a community-supported, nonprofit organization. Situated on 167 acres with panoramic views of surrounding hills -- and even of the Boston skyline on a clear day -- the farm features 37 varieties of apples throughout the season, a simple farm stand, wagon rides, walking trails, bird-watching, a Christmas tree farm, cross-country skiing, picnic areas, and a diversity of cultural and folk events throughout the year.
In season, the community and visitors from all around New England are invited to pick from a large variety of spectacular native apples as they ripen.
“The 2018 apple crop is the largest crop Sholan Farms has produced since 2003,” says Joanne DiNardo, president of the Friends of Sholan Farms. “The apples are large and flavorful, and the later varieties will benefit from the cool nights we are having. Also, Honeycrisp, early Cortlands, early McIntosh and Galas will be available in the farm stand this weekend.”
The farm stand will be stocked with fresh-picked apples, homemade jelly, honey from the farm’s hives, cider, gourds, mums, squash, pumpkins and much more.
“The bakers will be busy again making apple desserts and other treats,” says Joanne. “Our concession stand will be open on weekends, serving apple crisp, cider, coffee, cookies and other special delights.”
Joanne says one of the most popular events, the Cream of the Crop Macoun Weekend, will officially kick off the apple-picking season. It’s Saturday, Sept. 22, and Sunday, Sept. 23, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“Want a perfect no-fat dessert that will satisfy your sweet tooth?” asks Joanne. “Macoun may just be your apple. But hurry -- these special apples are only available in the fall.”
Along with apples, there will be a festivity of hand-crafted creations by local artists and artisans, so visit the Annual Johnny Appleseed Home Crafters Weekend that will be held in conjunction with the Cream of the Crop Macoun celebration.
“You can meet artists, pick apples, enjoy an assortment of food-truck fare, take a free hayride and enjoy live entertainment, all at one place,” says Joanne.
Next on the list is the annual Harvest Weekend Festival, which will be held Columbus Day weekend, Saturday, Oct. 6, through Monday, Oct. 8, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“The Harvest Weekend Festival has been held for the past 17 years,” Joanne says. “It will feature scarecrow-building, pumpkin-painting, cider-pressing, free wagon rides and live entertainment throughout the weekend. It’s just a fun weekend for the whole family.”
Sholan Farms is also a beautiful place to hike, either during the day and under the stars. It offers the Beyond the Farm Stand Hiking Series, led by experienced hikers who will lead tours through the orchard and beyond.
The Leominster Trail Stewards, in cooperation with the Friends of Sholan Farms, also offer Twilight Hikes throughout the year.
“Bring your family and friends for a great Saturday night activity to enjoy the outdoors in the evening and gather around the campfire to roast marshmallows and sip hot cocoa at the end of the hike,” Joanne says.
These hikes are free, but wear good walking shoes and bring water. The hikes are a great family activity for children accompanied by an adult.
Sholan also offers tours of its seasonal operations to schools and other groups on a first-come, first-served basis. Tour hours Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. A small per-person fee is charged.
“On a tour, you can expect to see the 167-plus acres of farmland, which includes the orchard, meadows and forests,” Joanne says. “The tours last about 30 minutes. All children receive a complimentary one-fourth peck of apples, cider and snack.”
If you don’t have a place to garden, no problem -- Sholan Farms has you covered. The farm hosts a multi-plot community garden that is open to community members.
“The past 10 years we have hosted over 40 families in the multi-plot, very productive, community gardens,” Joanne says. “In addition, we have an agreement with the Hmong community, who rent five acres.”
Joe LeBlanc oversees the gardens, and gardeners help with planning and layout, then get a 15-foot by 15-foot plot to grow their own vegetables.
The community garden is being planned, coordinated, developed and managed by The Friends of Sholan Farms. For information, contact Joe at 978-534-8471, daljoe@ verizon.net or firstname.lastname@example.org .
“Sholan Farms is a community-owned gem,” Joanne says proudly. “It is an honor to maintain and nurture the property. We have a terrific base of volunteer and paid staff that work tirelessly throughout the year to make this happen.”
And as Joanne tells visitors, “This is the people’s farm. We all own a piece of it, and we all can take pride that we saved the farm from development. I always get super-excited to welcome families, groups and volunteers back. We are always looking for new Friends to help with maintaining the orchard and with fundraising and membership. After all, we grow apples for your health and we would not be successful without our many loyal customers.”
The you-pick and harvest season runs through mid-November and is open daily, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sholan Farms is at 1125 Pleasant St., in Leominster, the birthplace of Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman). For information, call 978-840-FARM or visit www.sholanfarms.com for information about events, volunteer opportunities and membership.