In the town of Buckland, perched on the northern hills of Clesson Brook, sits an orchard with a view; since 1954 the Scott family has acted as stewards for this beautiful, if rustic, land. Their farm sprawls along the ledge, connecting one side of town to the other, through tight cow paths and brimming fruit trees.
Scott’s Orchard is run by Colin and Laura Scott, they’ve got 2,230 acres to look after, including some recent additions. They produce roughly 6-7k bushels annually, around half of which is sold locally. The rest is sent out towards Boston, to be sold at farms stands and markets. But the orchard has seen a few different business models as time has shown new problems to be tackled.
Colin’s parents were the first of the family to pick up the mantle, almost seventy years ago. When the local farmers asked them if they knew anyone who could manage an orchard, they decided to take it on themselves. And they built the business up as they went, by ‘85 they had enough demand to require a large scale cold storage facility, a building that still houses their operations today.
Around the time that they built their warehouse the orchard was producing upwards of 20,000 bushels of apples, to be distributed throughout the whole New England region. That is no small amount of apples for a relatively small operation. If you asked anyone back then they’d probably tell you the name of the game was quantity, the best way to get ahead was to produce more of your main crop, often a single variety of apple. But time has shown diversification wins out in the end.
In fact, the problems facing small orchards these days absolutely demands diversification. When local orchards are fighting against year-round harvests of name brand varieties, when the bulk of industry has turned to having fruits shipped across vast distances to reach the supermarket, then small orchards need more than a single crop to keep up. Scott Orchard offers not only a wide selection of apple varieties but also peaches, pressed cider, plums, blueberries, even cord wood.
Their farm in Buckland is home to 17 cows, with another 10 in Goshen, these provide meat and dairy to the family, as well as fertilizer for their crops. In the past they had more berry varieties, but with the onset of the spotted wing flies they’ve kept just the blueberries. Such is the precarious nature of agriculture, new issues shift the bar from year to year. As recently as 1999 the farm weathered a bitter deep freeze, which almost entirely knocked out that season’s harvest. But even the climate is shifting.
It used to be that the February freeze was the deciding factor for peaches that year, dipping as low as -20 in the hills. But that issue has been replaced with the threat of an annual thaw, leaving the ground bare when the cold returns, just days later. The new record high for February is in the 70s, exposing the trees everywhere, except for the most northerly facing slopes. Again, Scott’s Orchard adapts by planting multiple plots, which ensure their summer harvest.
Similarly this year has shown a heavy drought, resulting in smaller (albeit flavorful) fruits. For those crops sold by volume that means a lot more of the product fills each bushel. But that doesn’t keep the Scotts spirits down. Colin is a hard worker, who looks for innovative solutions, including new systems for maintaining nutrients and key building blocks for his trees.
Through foliar feeding Colin can customize their intake of essential minerals and nutrients, which are absorbed and utilized much faster by the tree. It’s not a long term solution to soil deficiency, but that’s not always the root of the issue. This way he can prioritize problem areas, even down to small groups of trees, who show signs they need more of this or that than their fellows in the rest of the grove.
Colin is optimistic about the future, while 2020 changed some of their practices, overall he’s seeing a shift towards local support. More and more folks are looking at farms in their areas as resources to be cherished. He sees a developing outlook, and desire, to be more self-reliant, as everything from internationally produced fertilizer to fruit has come into question the last few seasons. Shipping something as small as an apple across the ocean has its downsides, especially when the most flavorful fruits can be grown right down the road.
For now, they work year round to maintain their hillside orchards. Reveling in the exquisit springtime blossoms across the farm, savoring their own pressed cider in the fall, and everything that lies in between. They say they hardly see the beautiful view anymore, but even a casual observer can quickly remind them of the natural serenity that surrounds their home and town.
Everyone can find Scott Orchard apples, peaches, and nectarines at the Old Creamery Co-op’s produce section currently. Apple season is just kicking into full swing, so folks can expect to see even more offerings in the coming weeks. Interested parties can also find Scott Orchard farm stands in Buckland and Ashfield, brimming with their fresh fruit.