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grower profile:

Bear Swamp Orchard

Ashfield, Massachusetts

Steve Gougeon

Bear Swamp Orchard
Steve Gougeon
Tell us about your growing philosophy.

We are certified organic for marketing reasons, but our growing philosophy is based on ecological principles. We try to manage our orchard as an ecosystem, not a collection of trees, including soil, understory, predators and prey. A major goal of ours is to minimize outside inputs wherever possible while still getting sufficient fruit quality; a natural ecosystem is a cycle, after all. 

Tell us about your place on Earth.

Our orchard is in the Berkshire hills of western Massachusetts at about 1550 feet elevation. We have 5 acres of orchard, that will grow to about 6 acres before its done. 2 acres of that are in production right now.

What draws you to growing fruit?

Prestige and money, of course! We began by growing our own food, and caring for a few of the apple trees that were growing on our property for our own use. We rapidly had way too many apples for ourselves, and began taking care of more trees and offering apples for sale. There is something deeply satisfying about growing good food, and sharing that food with others is even better. We have lots of great discussions with our customers every year about values we share. 

What holistic innovation keeps your trees rarin' to grow?

High ideals, should be a goal for all!

What might you change if you could do one thing over again in your orchard?

All of our currently producing trees were already planted in our orchard. If we were to start over right now, we would likely have different varieties, relying on newer scab resistant trees, pre-lead arsenate varieties like Baldwins or Harrisons, and some good hard cider varieties. Varietal selection is one of the most important steps to a minimal care orchard.

How do you go about marketing the good fruit?

We sell almost all our whole fruit as U-pick. People come long distances for organic apples they can pick themselves. As a very small orchard, we are open for 3-4 weekends a year and sell all of our fruit during that time. We sell the B-grade fruit as sweet cider on the farm, and have become a farm winery so we can market hard cider to local venues. We do very little marketing beyond having a web site and Facebook page, belonging to CISA (a local agriculture support non-profit with a web-based farm finder tool), and getting our names on the state lists of farms.

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