hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Arts & Culture September 2018


Fruit and fulfillment

An orchard’s attractions keep growing, covering apples to art


Peaches grown at Love Apple Farm are among the attractions in the weeks before apple season begins at the Columbia County orchard. The farm has been a local destination since the late 1960s, but like many other pick-your-own operations, it has been expanding its scale and offerings. Scott Langley photo


Contributing writer

On at rainy afternoon in August, the massive retail space at Love Apple Farm was a beehive of activity.

Shoppers browsed the shelves packed with jars of raw honey, organic skin-care products and locally made, hand-woven baskets -- and a produce section filled with locally sourced vegetables, fruits, and dairy and meat products.

Children sat at communal wooden tables in the store’s dining section as they devoured cones of ice cream from SoCo Creamery. Families headed out to the orchard to pick peaches or lined up to sample the store’s signature menu of fruit pies, cookies and cider donuts as well as locally sourced salads and Mexican corn tamales and tacos.

Behind the counter, the staff darted back and forth, pouring coffee and steaming cornhusks, with tamales inside, to be fork-tender.

The pace at Love Apple Farm was bountiful indeed, and it wasn’t even apple season yet. When the apple crop begins to ripen fully later this month at the Columbia County orchard, there will be even more visitors to the nearly 100-acre campus that includes a pond, a three-acre petting zoo, a playground, and an art space reminiscent of a SoHo gallery.

Like other pick-your-own apple orchards across eastern New York – from Goold Orchard in Castleton to Saratoga Apple to Hicks Orchard in Granville – Love Apple Farm has evolved over the years into an agri-tourism destination where apples are just the headliner among many attractions.


Rebuilding and expanding
Love Apple Farm has existed since the late 1960s, when Chris and Randae Loken established a farm store and pick-your-own operation at their property along Route 9H. The couple – he a writer, she a model -- raised their two daughters in a two-story farmhouse on the property while gradually increasing the number of fruit trees each year.

Their goal was always to make the orchard more than just a place to pick and buy apples and peaches. The Lokens wanted their rolling, fruit-filled hills and retail store to bring people together for enjoyment – local people as well as visitors passing through the Hudson Valley.
When they decided to move to the West Coast in 2012, the Lokens sold their orchard to Francis J. Greenburger, a New York City real estate developer and philanthropist who’d long had a home in Columbia County.

The original retail space burnt to the ground in 2013, and Greenburger rebuilt with a larger, more multi-purpose store. When the new 9,000-square-foot building opened in August 2016, its offerings included an expanded menu, grocery inventory, and a communal dining area with views of the orchard.

“This has always been a place for families to come to enjoy the orchard for more than 40 years,” explained Keith Bogdanovich, Love Apple’s orchard manager. “But we also wanted to move the retail space into the 21st century. It now has radiant heating, is open year-round, and we’ve stocked it to be more of an everyday grocery store with reasonable prices for the community.”
The orchard itself has expanded over the years from growing only apples (20 varieties and counting) with the addition of trees producing peaches, cherries, plums and nectarines. Bogdanovich said this makes for extended picking season, which benefits both orchard and community.

“Whenever a family can get out together, it’s a special experience,” he said. “With picking, everyone gets a bonus of being outdoors and the fruit at the end of your labor.”

Market manager Shaylyn Decker oversees food service, grocery inventory and orchard tours. She said the new retail space has proven to be a retreat for those not enamored with hours of picking fruit.

“People hang out here and read while having coffee or a snack, or they shop while the rest of their family is on the orchard,” she explained. “Our Mexican food is the most popular thing on the menu; it’s very clean and authentic. But people also love our doughnuts, pies, and cinnamon buns.”


Art among the apples
With a destination that’s part agriculture, part playground and part shopping experience, it’s easy to see why some families come and spend an entire day.

And thanks to Francis Greenburger’s love of the arts, visitors can peruse the Love Apple Art Space in the adjacent former farmhouse where the Lokens once lived. The historic home still retains its wide-board wooden floors, but the staircase and walls are painted a vibrant white to help showcase paintings by artists from around the globe.

Allison Marchese, who oversees marketing for the orchard, said Greenburger’s love of the arts prompted the conversion of the former residence into an exhibition space that’s free of charge to visitors.

The upcoming exhibition, “Venus Occults Jupiter,” runs from Sept. 16 through Nov. 16, with an opening reception from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday Sept. 16. The title of the seven-artist exhibit refers to a rare astronomical event in 1818 in which Venus passed in front of Jupiter, eclipsing it from view; the year also coincides with the founding of the town of Ghent.

Love Apple Art Space isn’t Greenburger’s first contribution to the arts in Columbia County. The orchard is near Art Omi, the nonprofit international arts organization he founded in 1992 to offer residency programs in dance, writing, the visual arts music, and architecture. So far, more than 2,000 residents from 110 different countries have participated.

Marchese said it’s all part of Greenberger’s world-enhancing philosophy, something she says is evident as Love Apple Farm continues to thrive.

“This is our second full year of operation, and we’re very happy with the way it’s going,” she said, gazing out at a group of giggling children roaming the petting zoo, while other visitors enjoyed lunch at picnic tables under a massive vaulted tent.

“Longtime customers who started coming here when the Lokens operated the orchard tell us how grateful they are that we are continuing the tradition,” Marchese said. “In terms of education, it’s great for young kids to come here and see you can actually pick an apple off a tree. … Most kids only see the end result in the supermarkets.”

Bogdanovich said the appeal of Love Apple Farm now spans generations.

“Visiting the orchard has become a family tradition that’s passed down,” he said. “Parents, and now grandparents who came here as children, bring their children to spend an afternoon.”

Love Apple Farm, at 1421 Route 9H in Ghent, is open 365 days a year. Call (518) 828-5048 or visit www.loveapplefarm.com for more information on orchard events and exhibitions at Love Apple Art Space.