May 2001 draft
Using the Land -- Making a Living
Hope in 2000
Apples in Hope
Apples (Malus sp.), like cows, are an exotic species introduced into Hope by the British settlers, probably in the 1780s. Apples are not native to Britain either but probably to Kirghizstan or southeastern Kazakhstan. However, they had become so integral a part of British rural life that probably each of Hope's settler families planted a few apple trees once they had got a leg up on clearing the wilderness -- perhaps about when they built a modest frame house and moved out of their log hovel. So, like dairying, apple growing was probably not something anybody specialized in. The evidence for this speculation is the wild, often isolated apple trees that survive all over Hope near old cellar holes, even in the remotest parts of town.
Nor were apples likely a cash crop in the early years. There was no controlled-atmosphere storage or refrigeration in those days. Apples are less perishable than milk, blueberries, or Christmas trees, but, in a state of nature, they are pretty perishable nonetheless. As an alternative to spoilage, apples could be squeezed into cider, which, left alone, turns first to hard cider , then, if not kept cold, to vinegar. Scholars have calculated that the Englishmen of the American colonies consumed so much alcoholic cider and rum that most of the people must have been high most of the time. Cider was for everyday use; cider and rum were the social cement for special occasions. Early histories of other, better-documented towns show that townspeople got together for lubricated "frolicks" for many purposes, from barn-raising to crop processing to drilling militias to fight enemies. There is no reason to think that Hope was an exception to this rule.
At some fairly recent but unknown date, some family farms began to specialize in apples. Bill Hardy (1918- -) thinks that the first such orchard may have been at the house where he and Anna (1918- -) now live, the Thomas Bartlett house on Church Street near Beverage Road. The site is good for apple growing. The land is well-drained. Cold air can run off down gentle slopes in all directions. Anna Hardy thinks it might have been the Micah Hobbs (1777-1842) place, later the Payson apple farm, with its slopes running down from Hatchet Mountain to Hobbs Pond. There is evidence of old apple trees on both these sites, as on practically all old house sites in Hope.
Two of the common early varieties were Baldwin and Ben Davis. We know that Miller Hobbs (1872-1954) and some other Hope farmers, perhaps including Frank Messer Payson (1887-1966), grew Ben Davis apples for export to England. The Crabtrees, at the south end of town on Crabtree Road, grew apples and shipped them to South America; material on this farm and an old labelling stencil are in the Hope Historical Home. William Pearse's Barrett grandfather had a 300-400 tree orchard on the Barnestown Road. Pickers were hired locally. Merton Johnson and Ralph Hunt were among those who picked for the Barrett farm. The apples were hauled to Camden and put on the Boston boat.
Like Baldwins, Ben Davises were hard and shipped well; otherwise, they were not particularly desirable because they were dry and didn't taste good. We simply don't know much about the size of these pre-1934 orchards, their organization and techniques, and the dimensions of their commercial activity.
The Big Freeze of 1933/34
A big event for Hope apple farming was the big freeze of 1933-34. It wiped out most of Hope's apple trees. Our knowledge of just what was wiped out is sketchy, but while Baldwins and Ben Davises were destroyed, McIntoshes survived. It was the Great Depression and the New Deal US Department of Agriculture swung into action. USDA sent a crawler tractor to Hope -- the first one ever seen here -- to clear the dead apple trees. Today's older apple trees in Hope were part of this replanting in 1935 and thereafter.
1935-41 -- Apple Planting Years
Ralph ("Pop") Wentworth (1895-1970), from Denmark, Maine, was the USDA county extension agent. He graduated from Orono in 1917 and initially worked out of Rockland, traveling to farm meetings by train. Right after the 1933-34 big freeze, the Wentworths moved to Hope Corner. In 1935, Pop started setting out the orchard that is now Karl Drechsler (1957- -) and Linda Anderson's (1956- -) Hope Orchards. The young Bill Hardy worked for him in this task. The land around Hope Corner is a low pocket without good air or soil drainage -- not what an expert would normally pick for an apple orchard. Nevertheless, there were some apple trees already there that were worked into the new rows, including one ancient Tolman Sweet that Karl Drechsler remembers cutting down in 1995 which was the last of these oldest trees. Pop, being an extension expert, tried lots of varieties in the 12 acres of apples on the home piece. When the Drechslers took it over, the Wentworth home orchard contained a very large number of varieties. And, surprisingly, in 65 years, apples have done extremely well on the site; late frost has rarely been a problem.
Starting in about 1940, Pop Wentworth and Harold Allen (1894-1954) planted another orchard on Church Street on the Ten Acre Field behind the Quinn place, one of Hope's older frame houses. Bill Hardy, then a college student at Orono, worked with Wentworth and planted eight trees at the Thomas Bartlett place on Church Street at this time.
The cluster of small apple orchards at the Corner, along the beginning of Hatchet Mountain Road, also owe their existence partly to Pop Wentworth's energy. The extension agent worked with Howard Coose (1872-1949) to plant a couple of acres behind what is now Dr. Laurita's (1958- -) house. Uncle Howard planted mostly McIntosh and some Northern Spies. Audrey Grassow Gross used to help Uncle Howard with picking and other chores. Across the street, Ralph Brown (1881-ca. 1965), originally a summer person from Massachusetts, employed Lee Weaver to set out a couple of acres of apples, mostly Northern Spies, under Wentworth's supervision.
Probably Pop Wentworth also worked with Everett Hobbs (1878-ca. 1962), who planted apples and some peaches on the slope between the Barnestown Road and Hobbs Pond, the site where the last Indian attack is supposed to have taken place on a settler's cabin. Wentworth worked with Bert Brown to plant an acre or two at the S. Gilmore place where Barnestown Road meets Hatchet Mountain Road. This house and orchard were bought by Guilford (1919-1998) and Ruth Payson (1922- -) at the end of World War II and is now the home to Dave Rich's (1964- -) Apple Squeeze cider press.
Further up Hatchet Mountain Road, on the side of Hatchet Mountain, Frank Messer Payson was replanting what may have been Hope's oldest apple orchard. The site has excellent air drainage. Like all of these post-freeze plantings, Payson's orchard was dominated by McIntosh and Cortlands, originally from upstate New York, and Northern Spies, a late apple. The Payson apple farm, typical of its day, had no cold or controlled-atmosphere storage, so apples had to be sold within a few months after harvest. It had no cider press. Like his neighbors, Frank Messer hauled his cider apples to Thomas's cider press on Route 3 in North Searsmont. Until after World War II, the Paysons sorted apples by hand and sold a lot wholesale Agents for Shawcross, Niagara, and possibly other agents came to Hope to do the buying.
Beyond Paysons on Hatchet Mountain Road, Miller Hobbs replanted his freeze-destroyed Ben Davis and others. His orchards stretched the Ike lot, just beyond Paysons, down along Hatchet Mountain Road in small clusters almost to the Mansfield Pond flat. The Ike lot is now Bill Hardy's blueberry field, but that it was once an apple orchard can be readily seen from aerial photographs and from ground inspection.
Apples After the War
This great flourish of Hope apple planting was halted by World War II when many young men were away and labor was scarce. When Guilford Payson returned from World War II (he had been a belly gunner in at B-17 -- a position that takes extreme courage) he and wife Ruth took over the S. Gilmore place at the foot of Hatchet Mountain where the Bert Browns had lived during the war. It had a smaller orchard. Guilford and Ruth managed that, plus helping Gil's parents on the old farm. They converted the old barn, which had been used as a hen house, to apples.
Guilford and Ruth had a lot of energy and were soon managing not only Gil's father's orchard up Hatchet Mountain and the Gilmore place where they lived, but also the Coose orchard, the Ralph Brown orchard, and the orchard Bill Hardy was starting to plant up on Church Street.
The Bartlett apple-sorting machine from Beamsville, Ontario, which sorts by size, was added in 1963. The Paysons had a farm stand where they sold graded and ungraded apples, and some pears and peaches. The orchard is now principally McIntosh and Cortlands, so these were probably the original varieties. In the Payson orchard, other surviving varieties are Northern Spy, King, Fletcher Sweet, Tolman Sweet, Gravenstein, and Yellow Delicious.
Hope's Commercial Orchards in 2000
There are three remaining commercial orchards in Hope, all recently planted, though based on earlier orchards.
The Wentworth orchard at the Corner was sold to and operated by Raymond Ludwig (1907- -) in 1962, then bought back and operated by "Pop's" son, Jimmy Wentworth (1923- -), in 1972. The Ludwigs started retailing as many apples as they could from a farm stand built by Raymond on Route One that has become Fresh-off-the-Farm. Jimmy Wentworth continued this policy when he bought the farm back; he also bought in local produce and sold it through the stand, as well as blueberries from his small freshpack operation in the barn at the Corner. The Jimmy Wentworths were enthusiastic Jehovah's Witnesses and, increasingly, they found that the demands of commercial apple growing, which is a highly technical, year-round operation like dairying, and apple selling, impinged on time for proselytization. So, in 1982, the Wentworth orchard was again sold, this time to out-of-staters. The farm stand was sold separately.
The young buyers, Karl and Linda Drechsler were eminently qualified. Karl, from Stow MA, had grown up on and worked on apple farms there, and on the Hampton Falls NH farm on which the story Ciderhouse Rules was based. Linda was from Gloucester on Cape Ann. Both were University of Massachusetts trained. The Drechslers came with little cash but extensive knowledge and willingness to work hard. With loans from USDA, they replaced almost all of the aging trees in the Wentworth and Quinn orchards with semi-dwarf trees that can be picked from the ground, not from ladders. They expanded the orchard area by having additional woods cleared and chipped until the home orchard plus the Quinn orchard covered 50 of the 90 acres of the property. In 1990, the Drechslers sold the Moody Orchard in Lincolnville which had always been included in and operated with the Hope property. They negotiated an agreement with the buyers that removed it as a source of competition. They constructed a new, metal apple barn across the street from the old barn. The new barn has retail areas, adequate cold storage, and a cider press. Without a retailing outlet on Route One, they concentrated on getting customers to the Apple Barn in Hope. They added a kitchen and dormitory for ten migrant workers to the back of the new Apple Barn. School groups trooped to the refurbished Wentworth Orchard, now called Hope Orchards, to see how farming worked.
In the 1950s, William and Anna Hardy, at their home in Church Street embracing the old Thomas Bartlett and Boardman homesteads, began to plant an orchard on what may have been the site of Hope's first orchard. While it has continued to grow over the years, this orchard was not intended as the full family livelihood. However, the Hardy orchard is large enough to be definitely commercial. The Hardys advertise and have a lively retail business.
In 1999, next to the Hope Grove cemetery, Everett Smith (1962- -), the great grandson of Everett Hobbs, began planting a peach and plum orchard where the Hobbs orchard had once been. Everett and his mother, Lorraine Merrifield Smith (1944- -), started a large greenhouse operation on the old Everett Hobbs farm in 1998 to complement Wayne Smith's (1942- -) Yamaha snowmobile, jet-ski and ATV dealership. The new orchard has the first drip irrigation in Hope, probably the first irrigation of any kind. It should start coming into production in 2001 or 2002.
Hope's Abandoned Orchards
There are no other remaining commercial apple orchards in Hope. The last to be abandoned was the Payson orchard at the top of the Hatchet Mountain Road hill around Hatchet Mountain. In poor health, Guilford Payson had been having trouble maintaining the orchard for several years by 1991. He then sold this orchard to Bill (1937- -) and Judith Jones (1942- -) in 1991, five years before Bill retired from the World Bank.
The Payson orchard last operated in 1991 under a complex agreement whereby Guilford Payson contributed his expertise, the Joneses contributed their newly-acquired assets and some cash, and Larry Hobbs (1936- -) contributed most of the labor and sold the apples from the Payson farm stand. After this arrangement failed, there were various attempts to produce cider to raise money for Hope's athletic teams, but the aging orchard has basically ceased to be commercial. The Joneses mow the orchard, with help from Bob and Buck, work horses from Steve Russo (1958- -) and Tina Ross's (1960- -) TP Ranch on the Beverage Road, who sometimes graze there. They prune the trees nearest to the house but no longer fertilize or protect their trees from the many insects that also love apples. Bill explained to his former USDA office mate, Dana Dalrymple, a summer resident, a USDA agricultural economist and former extension worker, that the Payson orchard is now "organic." That's what we used to call "neglected," Dalrymple said.
Other orchards went out earlier. Ralph Brown's orchard, now Alan Brown's (1932- -), Howard Coose's, and the trees at the S. Gilmore place used to be cared for either by the Paysons or by whoever was operating the Wentworth orchard. Mrs. Hoffman , Howard Coose's niece, last leased the part of the Coose orchard nearest the house to the Drechslers. Karl has recounted how they would take Mrs. Hoffman a check for her share of the proceeds of the orchard; she would take them out to dinner to fete the occasion, spending more on the dinner than she had netted from the check. As the Drechslers increasingly concentrated on Hope Orchard, they dropped care for the remaining, small, sub-commercial orchards near Hope Corner.
When Frank Messer Payson died in 1966, Gil and Ruth Payson moved up the mountain to the Payson farm house to take over care of Mount Hatchet Farm from Gil's parents. Hazel Payson (1893-1997) moved to a mobile home across the street. The S. Gilmore place where they had lived was sold to Dave Rich, a master plumber who moved to Hope from Cape Cod. Guilford no longer looked after the orchard. Dave Rich diversified from plumbing. He bought the Thomas cider press from North Searsmont. His Apple Squeeze brand is familiar in local stores. However, the apple trees on the property are not a significant source of the furnish for Dave Rich's cider. Dave does custom pressing for local people who don't have presses. Larry Hobbs had the Jones's apples from the Payson orchard pressed there in 1991 when the Payson Apple Shelter was still operating for instance. However, most of the apples for Apple Squeeze cider come from as far away as Winterport. Increasingly onerous government regulation of cider mills has been a discouraging factor. In 2000, Dave Rich found that he could make more money from driving his truck than from cider pressing; the Apple Squeeze press did not operate in 2000.
The existence of recently abandoned orchards around Hope Corner (and of "wild" apple trees from former family farms all over town) presents a problem for the remaining commercial orchards. It makes Hope a reservoir for apple diseases. It is this, more than the value of the apples they yielded, that induced Gil Payson and Karl Drechsler and his predecessors to go on taking care of the smaller orchards around them.
Apple Growing Techniques
Neglected and abandoned apple trees struggle on in the woods. Though far from their native Central Asia, they survive. Producing good-quality, salable apples, however, requires giving apple trees a lot of care. It is a highly technical business.
One reason is that apples are just as attractive to a wide variety of other organisms as they are to us. Apple scab is the biggest single scourge of Hope apples, but there is a wide variety of threats from which apples need protection if they are going to be sold to humans. There is a wide variety of protective measures too. These include fences and hanging soap cakes on trees and "lead control" to protect the trees from deer. They include quite a lot of pesticide spraying.
Hope apple farmers, like apple farmers anywhere, hate to spray. It is an expensive business. It often requires getting up before dawn and spraying in the morning calm. Neighbors complain about the noise. One Hope neighbor was complaining to another about the noise of Karl Drechsler's spraying. Said the complainee to the complainant, "Do you think Karl's spraying at 4 AM because he likes to?" Karl sprays with a full-size, tractor-drawn FMC air-blast sprayer. Bill Hardy uses an FMC High Pressure sprayer on his International Cub Cadet.
Like Hope's blueberry farmers, its apple farmers practice integrated pest management (IPM). Twice a month, a Cooperative-Extension-sponsored IPM scout (monitoring technician) comes to help the Drechslers monitor the pests they have and to decide when it is necessary to spray and when it isn't. The Drechslers keep elaborate records of temperature and humidity to determine the severity of the scab threat, and to take the necessary countermeasures without taking unnecessary ones. Like pest-control practices, pest monitoring has to be precisely timed, and goes on for months.
For apples, the next most demanding cultural practice is pruning. Like blueberries and all the other pomaceous fruits, apples fruit mostly annually on growth that is at least two years old. They have to be pruned annually so that they are forever trying to expand. Pruning also removes dead and/or diseased wood. It removes crossed branches. It aims to shape each tree so that branches will be as open to sunlight as possible and so that the tree will be easy to pick. It is quite an art.
Other important cultural practices are mowing and fertilization. The nutritional balance is monitored not only by the commonly-known soil sample but, more importantly, by a leaf-tissue analysis taken the summer prior to the spring application.
If pest management, pruning, mowing and fertilization succeed, and if God and the weather cooperate, the result is a beautiful crop. To get a high-quality and high-value product, apples have to be picked at the right time and picked gently. Pickers used to work on piece rate. That, however, encouraged them to sacrifice quality for speed. After many bruised apples, the Drechslers now pay hourly wages. Pickers have to use wooden ladders or pole pickers on older, full-size trees; newer semi-dwarfs can generally be picked from the ground. Pickers pick into metal, canvas-bottomed picking buckets that can be emptied gently into larger containers.
Increasingly, picking is done by migrants, almost all from Mexico, especially in these times of relative economic prosperity. Migrants are paid what locals are paid. They are hard workers, here without their families and focused on their farm work, except when they play soccer at True Park against us locals. As of 2000, our soccer is improving to the point where we can play pretty evenly with Mexican who have been raking blueberries all day.
Some areas are reserved for pick-your-own. Hope Orchards sells by weight; Hardy orchards, by volume -- bushels and pecks. Both orchards can be quite crowded on pleasant weekends in September and October.
Except for the pick-your-owns, apples are moved to the barn by tractor in large wooden boxes. Hope Orchards has a 1957 grading machine; Hardy Orchard grades by hand. Since the price varies enormously between a blemish-free, large-diameter apple and utility apples and drops suitable only for cider, grading is critical.
Hardy Orchard sells all of its apples retail. The much-larger Hope Orchards sells about one-third of its apples retail. It employs three people for sales during the height of the season. Recently, as the result of fierce price competition from Washington State and China, that retail third has accounted for virtually all of net income.
Some of the less-beautiful apples can be pressed to make cider, at Hope Orchards by their own batch press, by Hardy Orchards, at Dave Rich's press. Hope Orchards can prolong its season thanks to the cold storage in The Apple Barn. Still, by Christmas, the season is over. The volume of apples that Hope Orchard cannot sell retail as apples or as cider have to be wholesaled. Lately, the receipts for these sales per unit have not escalated at the same pace as costs.
In 2001, Hope Orchards is for sale. The Quinn orchard on Church Street has sold to a family that will put a house there. The Apple Barn has sold to a professional painter. The prospective purchaser of the home orchard intends to raise apples without "artificial" fertilizers and pesticides and with much less equipment and facilities than the Drechslers had. Bill and Anna Hardy are 82. Dave Rich's Apple Squeeze cider press did not operate in 2000. The future of making a living from apples in Hope is on the minds of many.
It is widely recognized that there are "externalities" from Hope's apple farms -- that there are benefits to those of us who don't grow apples that we don't pay for: vistas all year long, the apple blossoms in May, school children visiting the orchards, and the families that come to Hope as much for the adventure as for the apples. Hope's reception for Bill and Judith Jones's honeymoon was the Grange Hall filled with boughs of apple blossoms. There is a good living to be made growing apples in Hope and retailing them, but it requires a lot of knowledge, willingness to work long and hard, and a love of both retailing and farming.