Apples are a fruit associated with autumn, but for growers in Ontario apple farming is a year-round job. We visited Norfolk County to learn how apples get from farm to table.
Hosted by the Ontario Apple Growers, a group of foodies, nutritionists and dieticians visited Norfolk County to learn about the process of apple farming from some apple growers in Ontario. We were there in late November and while the bulk of harvest was over for the year, there was still lots of work to be done to get apples and apple products to our tables.
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About Ontario Apple Growers
Ontario Apple Growers is an organization working with over 200 grower-members with over 10 acres of apple orchards. Their work centres around promoting Ontario apples to consumers, supporting & fostering a thriving farming industry and encouraging research & innovation.
As part of their mandate to promote Ontario apples they hosted a group of us for a delicious day filled with apple facts and bites.
Visit their website for some creative and delicious recipes using Ontario-grown apples.
The harvest for the season was over and the trees were bare, but we learned a bit about the fruit trees in Ontario and the history of Ireland Orchards.
It was a sunny and chilly day as we stood outside in the orchards while Murray from Ireland Orchards shared some informative facts about their operations:
- Ireland Orchards has 865 acres of land
- They used to grow 17 varieties of apples but pared it down to be a more manageable operation. Some of the trees they had were older-style that took more labour to prune & harvest.
- Organic vs conventional pesticides. This question came up because it's been said that apples are a highly sprayed crop, and it led to some interesting knowledge. They have used organic pesticides over the years but according to Murray, with organic pesticides it's required to spray more often and the sulphur in the organic pesticides is toxic, which means that the workers have to stay out of the orchards for a longer period of time until it's safe after spraying. What they do is monitor the fields on a weekly basis to see which bugs are in the orchards, determine the good vs the bad and adjust the balance of pesticides to ensure there are more good bugs left behind.
- They aim to have 10 - 12 apples per tree which allows for consistency in the final product, which is what consumer want.
The Combine Restaurant
A food tour isn't complete without some delicious food to eat, and our stop at The Combine hit the spot!
The chef at The Combine prepared a meal to showcase apples and products grown locally. They aim to build relationships with local farmers and have their own garden & greenhouse to ensure the freshest and best quality ingredients.
The menu: We started with a Warm Norfolk Apple Cider followed by an Apple Chestnut Soup. There was a choice for the main dish and I went for the Harvest Salad with Shrimp but they all looked amazing. The small bites of apple fritters with caramel was a delicious way to end the meal.
Norfolk Growers Association
The last stop of the day was the Norfolk Growers Association to see how the final stages of the apple journey before it hits the stores for consumers to purchase.
With 9 growers in the association, this is where the apples get washed, processed and packed for sale. They process about 750,000 apples per day!
Some of the apples are bagged and some are put into boxes for immediate sale, and a whole lot of apples are put into climate controlled storage so they stay fresh and can be sold throughout the year - this is how we can have fresh apples all year round. Each room can hold about 550,000 lbs of apples.
Just before we boarded the bus to head home to Toronto we stopped in at the store for the most delicious apple cider donuts.
Overall, we learned quite a bit about the journey our apples take from farm to store to table. If you go to a pick-your-own it seems as though it's just a matter of picking an apple, washing it and eating, but for the commercial sale there's a lot more that goes into it and it certainly makes me appreciate all of the work that goes into getting food to consumers.