The Third Annual Organic Apple Festival at Rodale Farm

by Louisa on September 21, 2011

There’s a right way and a wrong way to pick apples, and I learned how to do it right last weekend at the Third Organic Apple Festival at the Rodale Institute’s organic farm in Pennsylvania.

A field of organic peppers at Rodale Farm

A field of organic peppers at Rodale Farm

Rodale is where the American organic movement started, when J.I. Rodale started Organic Farming and Gardening magazine, now Organic Gardening, in 1942.

The garden used by Organic Gardening magazine for planting and landscaping photos that go in the magazine

The garden used by Organic Gardening magazine for planting and landscaping photos that go in the magazine

These days, Rodale has 333 acres of organic land in Pennsylvania where farmers and scientists research organic farming methods.

The unbelievably picturesque farm

The unbelievably picturesque farm

The institute is two hours from New York in a setting of rolling hills and green pastures. My friend Fiana and I took the opportunity of the festival to leave the city for a day of fresh air and apple picking.

Get your organic apples here

Get your organic apples here

Upon arrival we headed to the apple orchard to start picking. Along with a wooden basket, we received a list of guidelines for picking:

  • To pick apples without harming next years crop, grab the apple from the bottom and pull up. Don’t pull down! The fruit should easily break away from the branch at the stem. No leaves should come off.
  • Only pick apples from the trees. Don’t pick them off the ground.
  • Beware of bees and wasps! They are beneficial to the trees but will harm you if provoked. If stung, proceed to the store. There is a first aid kit available.
  • Please don’t climb the trees or use ladders to pick apples.
Fiana with her apples

Fiana with her apples

Fiana got to work picking a few pounds of apples, some of which we couldn’t help but eat on the spot. Crisp and sweet, they had a vibrant red color. Many had small brown spots, but they didn’t affect the taste or texture of the apples.

Margaret Hodgkiss-Lilly, a research technician who helps to conduct soil tests at would-be farms at

Margaret Hodgkiss-Lilly, a research technician who helps to conduct soil tests at potential organic farms

Picking accomplished, we toured the farm with seasonal research technician Margaret Hodgkiss-Lilly, a recent grad in the field of environmental science. Hodgkiss-Lilly helps test the soil of nine farms that are transitioning to organic farming. Once the soil is verified organic, they can label their farm products as such and charge a higher price. Hodgkiss-Lilly loves her work:

“Working with organic farming feels important. I like food, and now I understand the importance of what it means to be organic. It’s a fun field. The people I work with are excited about what they’re doing.”

A visitor uses a fruit picker to pick apples

A visitor uses a fruit picker to pick apples

The gardener Lee Reich, the well-known author of Landscaping with Fruit and The Pruning Book, gave a lecture on growing organic apples. I leave you with some of his natural pest control strategies:

  • Use compost and other natural soil builders for tree health
  • Plant disease-resistant varieties
  • Bag fruit
  • Chickens beneath trees
  • Pruning to let light and air in among the branches and to remove diseased stems
  • Thorough cleanup at end of each season
  • Natural sprays for insects: dormant oil, neem, ‘Surround’ (kaolin clay)
  • Natural sprays for diseases: dormant oil, neem, sulfur

You can visit Rodale Farm Tuesday-Saturday 10am-4pm, at 611 Siegfriedale Road, Kutztown, PA, 19530. For more info contact the Rodale Institute Store and Visitor Center: 610-683-6009 email hidden; JavaScript is required

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