A network of farmers dedicated to finding the most ecological way to grow fruit in the Northeast have achieved an increase of over 50% in certified Eco Apple® acres for the 2016 season. The partnership aims to provide the region’s consumers with just-picked local apples that have been grown with the health of humans and bees in mind.
Fifteen orchards have earned Eco Apple® certification for the 2016 season, representing a combined 1436 acres, a 53% increase over previous years. “The Eco Apple program aligns with our philosophy perfectly. Our decision to expand our Eco Apple acreage to 100% of the farm reflects our desire to implement progressive growing practices on a commercial level,” noted Greg Parzych, Vice President of Rogers Orchards in Southington, CT. Rogers Orchards, founded in 1809 is one of the largest in Connecticut and a longtime participant in the program. “As stewards of the land, we strive to raise a viable and high quality crop in the most ecologically responsible way.” added Parzych.
The Eco Apple® program is a third party growing and certification program, a partnership between farmers and scientific advisors, to advance the most progressive and environmentally responsible growing practices for tree fruit in the Northeast. Orchards are certified annually by the IPM Institute of North America, based on a rigorous protocol, verified by an annual audit and regular on-farm inspections. The protocol is reviewed annually by both growers and scientists to stay abreast of current research and best practices.
Ecology-based practices benefit wild pollinators
Eco-certified orchards are also participating in a study of wild pollinators by Professor of Entomology Dr. Bryan Danforth at Cornell University. “We surveyed bees in conventional and Eco Apple® orchards and found a striking difference between the two in terms of wild bee species richness and abundance. The Eco Apple orchards host many more species and many more individual wild bees than the conventional orchards. I think the Eco Apple protocol does a very good job of protecting the beneficial insects, including pollinators.”
Apple growers in the eastern US face intense insect and disease pressures compared to the drier climates in the Pacific Northwest: more than sixty species of damaging insects, and twice as many diseases as growers in western states. While over 93% of the certified organic apples grown in the US come from eastern Washington, Eco-certified fruit offers a reliable source of sustainably grown local fruit for the Northeast.
Red Tomato, the non-profit that launched the Eco program in 2005, recently received a grant from The Cedar Tree Foundation to help analyze 11 years of pest management data from certified orchards. In partnership with the IPM Institute of North America, analysis of the data will provide insights into advances in orchard management practices, trends in pesticide usage, and pollinator health.
The Eco Apple® program began in 2005 with six orchards on 400 acres. Today, 15 orchards and over 1400 acres are certified for the 2016 growing season. Eco-certified orchards in the Northeast have a good crop this year in spite of challenging drought in part of the region. They produce varieties like Honeycrisp, and Gala, as well as popular and sometimes harder-to-find regional specialties like McIntosh, Macoun, Cortland, and Empire. Heirloom varieties, all with unique history, shapes, colors and flavors, are also available.
2016 Certified Eco Apple® producers are:
Blue Hills Orchard – Wallingford, CT Clark Brothers Orchard – Ashfield, MA
Lyman Orchards – Middlefield, CT Davidian Brothers Farm – Northborough, MA
Rogers Orchard – Southington, CT Schlegel Fruit Farm – Dalmatia, PA
Fishkill Farms – Hopewell Junction, NY Champlain Orchards – Shoreham, VT
Indian Ladder Farms – Altamont, NY Scott Farm – Dummerston, VT
Klein’s Kill Fruit Farms – Germantown, NY Sunrise Orchards – Cornwall, VT
Mead Orchards – Tivoli, NY
Orbaker’s Fruit Farm – Williamson, NY
Sullivan Orchard – Peru, NY