As any grower could attest, producing a great harvest of apples in Virginia means knowing about weather, soil content and the number of growing days.
And more and more these days, it requires a sound knowledge of consumer trends.
That’s how Cynthia Chiles sees it, and she knows something about apples. She and her family own Crown Orchard Company and Carter Mountain Orchard in Charlottesville, which have been in business since her great-grandfather first planted orchards in 1912. Chiles says that she, her siblings and their children are continuously striving to produce the best apples possible.
“Lots of things have changed in the industry,” she says. “There are so many varieties of apples being developed, and we have to understand customer demands and trends. Every time a new variety or strain of an apple is being developed, everybody jumps on the bandwagon to be the first to grow it.
Consumers are demanding very high quality, which works great for us because we’re very quality-driven in our growing practices and grading. We only want to put out our very best for customers.”
Big Boost For Economy
The apple industry throughout Virginia is meeting consumer demands, as well as helping the bottom line. The industry accounts for an estimated $235 million annually to the state’s economy.
“We’re the sixth-largest apple state in the country,” says David Robishaw, marketing specialist who represents the state’s apple industry for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “Virginia is a key player in the East Coast apple industry. We are very proud of what our state is doing.”
Approximately five million bushels of apples are produced each year by more than 100 commercial growers in the state, according to the Virginia Apple Growers Association. Apples from Virginia are sold in 15 states and more than 10 countries.
Virginia has many apple orchards that sell through farmers markets, on-farm sales or pick-your- own ventures, but 70 percent of the state’s apples are sold for processing into products such as applesauce, apple juice, slices and cider. One of the biggest players in that segment is White House Foods of Winchester. The brand is known across the nation for its applesauce, apple juice, apple cider vinegar and other products.
Founded in 1908, White House is still a family operation that processes apples from the company’s own orchards and local growers. “It’s very important for us to be able to purchase our apples from local farmers,” says David Gum, Jr., president of White House Foods. “We are farmers as well, and farmers are hard-working folks. Our business helps to sustain those families so they can continue to grow apples into the future.”
The quality of apples is the key to the flavor of White House products, but the diversity of the fruit also plays an important role.
A blend of sweet and tart apples is used in the company’s applesauce recipe to provide just the right combination of flavors.
Exports are a big part of the apple business at Crown Orchard Company, which includes a packing house and a cold storage facility.
“Most of our crop is packed for commercial sale,” Chiles says. “So many of our apples are going to grocery store chains and military commissaries, and many are exported as well (mostly to Central America, Europe and the Middle East). It certainly is a very important part of our business.”
Carter Mountain Orchard is quite the tourist destination, with its pick-your-own business, various events and festivals, and a general store.
“We have a pretty unique location here on Carter Mountain,” says Chiles, who operates the orchard with her brother, sister, nieces and nephews. “We’re adjacent to Monticello and Michie Tavern, which are obviously big tourist attractions.”
Chiles and her family are also active in Virginia’s overall apple industry.
“We all work together very closely,” she says of the industry as a whole. “This is an industry of friends who help each other and try to make the industry better.”