Autumn has been unusually kind to us this year, lingering with its crimson and butter leaves, some of which still hold tight to their limbs. Today the sun is showing its face and the still warm wind is lifting me in a way I did not know that I needed. What a brilliant time to be alive and awake in this world, beholder of a fiery kingdom that blooms and revives and sustains. Days such as this remind me to grab these fleeting hours by their necks and hold on for all it is worth. They rile up something wild and wonderful that tends to often lay dormant during those dark days of winter: to see it all in new blushing color, to catch that wood smoke trailing on the wind, to really pay attention.
The art of paying attention is seemingly easy in theory, just approachable enough to beckon a good assortment of students, yet surprisingly difficult in its continued practice. In business as in life, it is crucial to hone in on this craft in order to thrive and participate in the act of creation. For the Kiblers, this is making really, really good bread: food that is health-ful and life-giving. This involves not only compounding a team of good hands and practices but also sourcing good raw materials with which to work and create.
We have already told you a bit about our grains from Ferris and ham from Jake’s Country Meats. There are a handful of other local farms and families that we support in this many-faceted process of baking, one of which is Wells Orchards. Currently our seasonal fruit croissant and apple pie (that we are making for thanksgiving this year!) feature some lovely apple varietals from these guys. Despite the recent end to apple-picking season, the limbs having been relieved of their fruit by early-November, I thought a visit to their farm would be just the thing to do on this gracious autumn morning.
After speaking with Michelle upon my arrival, a fourth generation keeper of the orchard, I was quickly informed that, though the trees lay bare until the coming spring, their root cellar and adjacent building used for long-term storage enable them to sell apples from their on-site market store until March. I watched as her father Kurt and his brother Scott sorted through some Northern Spies to bring into the store, a process that certainly takes longer when done this way but ensures that a keener eye is on the apple and ultimately a higher quality product in the basket.
Their crew is small but dedicated to the work before them; though they would not claim to practice organically, their implementation of Integrated Pest Management allows them to “monitor and identify damaging pests and diseases and help find methods of prevention.” Instead of spraying everything as many commercial growers do for the sake of efficiency, the trees are kept under observation with certain “action thresholds” in place, enabling them to act in other more effective and environmentally sensitive ways before any one thing requires serious attention. If and when additional action is needed, the sprays used are those that many organic growers implement as well, which encourages them in their efforts to grow high quality fruits.
Having worked on a farm for the past two years myself, I truly appreciated talking with someone whose eyes have been on the limbs and fruits from spring until fall, whose hands have harvested and sorted and grown sore by the season’s end. And even when the season ends there is much work to be done, still a good harvest to be sold throughout the winter. The perfectly lined rows of trees stand still full of foliage but barren of fruit, the drops to remain and decompose into a bed that awaits the warmth and new life of another spring. It takes a strong, enduring spirit to assume responsibility for this kind of endeavor, and a kind heart to maintain good relationships between consumers and clients despite the inevitable hardships of farming.
Louis Wells, founder of the orchard and great grandfather to Michelle, was drawn to the city with a humble purpose but has created something much greater: a family heritage. This fruitful lineage includes not only the orchard itself but more significantly a love of the land and of growing. His venture continues to evolve yet remains for the most part within the hands of his kin and company through the ages. Other than a few sparing harvesters in the summer and a market companion in the winter, the Wells are personally continuing in the legacy that their beloved Louis has begun nearly one hundred years ago.
Field & Fire being a small agricultural-related business, we really prioritize supporting other ventures with a like-minded vision of good food and sustainable practices. By supporting us, delighting in our croissants and savoring the last flaky bits of pie on your plate, you are also supporting farms like Wells Orchards. Thank you for eating with us, for continually learning and becoming a part of a better food system.