It’s time for hot apple cider and pumpkin picking, and if you take a nice drive on Old State Road 37, you can find the perfect place for both: Musgrave Orchard. The trees are changing and the weather is starting to get that crisp chill in the air, and that's just the time when owners Andy and Amy Hamilton do what they truly enjoy.
This past Saturday was Musgrave Orchard’s seasonal grand opening, and the place was abuzz with locals ready to sample the orchard's products. Musgrave was founded in 1937 by Lester Musgrave, and is one of the last commercial apple orchards in Monroe County. The Hamilton’s purchased the 66-year-old orchard from Lester’s son, Bob Musgrave, in 2003 after throwing their college degrees to the wind and starting Core Farms CSA.
When bought, the orchard was left as a seasonal apple orchard. The Hamilton’s thought to transition to organic, but the orchard was resistant, hosting fire blight among the trees. It takes 2-3 years to cure the soil of the disease once an apple tree is removed from the ground. Fire blight also hosts itself in the tree leaves, which blow through the orchard, latching onto other trees. Now the orchard only has 300+ trees, whereas it used to have around 8,000. Even through this, the Hamilton’s continue to flourish in their family business, raising their children right along the cider press.
The old cider house is still fully functioning, even after working for numerous decades. According to Andy Hamilton, “It’s now close to its 80th year.” He spoke humbly about the orchard as we sat on the wraparound patio accompanying the store where Hamilton and his family sell their products. The old cider house was where Hamilton states he saw the greatest production possibilities, “I decided to focus on the cider making business.”
This year’s extreme weather conditions caused the problem of "pre-bloom,"where the trees blossoms in late March and early April instead of in late May, after the threat of frost. Consequently, the early-blooming trees were exposed to a frost, destroying the flowers that would have set the fruit. Hamilton went on to say, “This problem has occurred two out of the past five years, not to mention the three straight years of drought.” Because of this, Hamilton would like to plant new fruit, but the land is scarce, with new housing additions being constructed near the orchard.
Hamilton stated his interesting in wondering whether the locals would also like regional apples. He expressed interest in making organic cider using apples from Wisconsin or Michigan. Hamilton spoke, too, about raising more than just apples, expressing his interest in acquiring additional plots of land on which he would like to produce a variety of vegetables. “We’re trying to grow, sell, and multiply.”
When asked how Musgrave’s relationship was with Bloomingfoods, Hamilton immediately announced, “Phenomenal. Bob Musgrave had someone pick and then take the fruit to the store, so I just continued on with Bloomingfoods when I took over.” Musgrave promotes the same message as Bloomingfoods: fresh, local, healthy, and no preservatives.
As I scrambled to finish up my notes and let Hamilton get back to his customers, I asked on last question, “What’s the greatest reward of doing all of this,” I pointed around, “of owning Musgrave Orchard?”
He simply smiled, already knowing his answer and replied, “Doing this with my family.”
Musgrave Orchard inspires the locals, as well as Bloomingfoods. The Hamiltons have done the Musgraves proud by bringing family, health, and community together. Be a part of the orchard; head over to Musgrave Orchard, grab a caramel apple and some cider, and get to know the good folks who support local and healthy production.
article written by Phoebe Blake