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Walden Heights Nursery & Orchard

Walden, Vermont

Todd Parlo

Walden Heights Nursery & Orchard
Todd Parlo
Tell us about your growing philosophy.

Our most important consideration here is the development of a truly sustainable system of fruit production. This means a system with true longevity, independent of fossil fuels, market forces and industrial whimsy. The purpose of our indeavor surely is the production of healthy organic food, but feel the beauty is in the method. Along with other growers we are using temporary solutions to farming, but consider it our duty to come up with a model of true permanency. One that will work regardless of the financial resources of the farmer, the access to materials, or the age in which it is being attempted.

Tell us about your place on Earth.

WHN&O is in US zone 3, at 1703 ft elevation, N 44-27, W72-15 in Walden, Vermont. The orchard contains 1000+ fruit trees which includes over 400 apple varieties. The purpose is for fruit production and for testing cultivars and methods in our climate and under organic management. We also have a wide diversity of fruit plants and bushes (several thousand).  The farm contains greenhouses and homestead surrounded by mixed forest. The nursery is also integral to our operation, creating nearly all our plants from scratch here on the farm, and so the orchards are peppered with production beds, grafts, cuttings and other such creatures.

What draws you to growing fruit?

There is really nothing else in the world I would rather eat, since I was a little kid, and some things die hard. They were also the kinds of places that seemed magical to me, the older orchards that is..seemingly ancient and knarled, stately and offering so much. Maybe much of it has to do with reproducing a part of my childhood, where my uncle would take me through rugged blueberry patches and my mom would take us apple picking at farms that encouraged 7 year olds to climb trees and ladders. If our own landscapes captures a bit of what those experiences held for me, it will all be worth the effort. It still amazes me how the straightforward pursuit of feeding oneself can create such beauty and such an experience.

What holistic innovation keeps your trees rarin' to grow?

Holistic in the widest philosophical sense. A full systems analysis, from the histological to a full fledged understanding of planetary dynamics. It takes into account benefits and repercussions of every last thing we do. That includes what we kindle and what we kill. It is a way to think. The specific things we do will ultimately differ individually. Thinking in a holistic sense rocks my boat because it is likely to find consensus in both finding humility, wonder, and embracing the complication. It is in the day to day details where adherents will find a difference of opinion. Here's to finding commonality in looking at the big picture. 

How has an ecosystem approach changed your tree reality for the better?

I like this question. I do because it is an easy way to describe the real difference between our weird orchard and what one might call a conventional one. In a less than scientific sense, the damn thing just feels right. We have plenty of 4 year olds visiting this place, and you know they understand that this is what is supposed to happen. To more directly approach the query, allowing for diversity in the landscape has seemingly proved beneficial to the orchard proper. This means diversity of plants, but just as importantly detritus, microbes, and animals (pesky ones included). A wide mix of litter means both nutrients and landscape for small critters. A wide variety of enticing species spreads the japanese beetles wide. Skunks dispatch yellow jackets to improve picking enjoyment. It isn't all roses, but it can be efficient, and lovely, if you look at the big picture. 

Share an “aha! moment” that made you a better grower.

Aha! A human being cannot work more than 23 hours in a day without repercussions. I have learned a lot about the specifics of horticulture, but the real epiphany has a whole lot more to do with life assessment in general. My moment, which reappears periodically after forgetting, is why on earth I am doing this in the first place. Yes, not particular to farming, but it certainly fits. I know personally I like the look of things, and the feel of things. I like the little boy preoccupation with collecting and discovery. I am more driven by the making of stone walls and all the apples bearing for the first time last year. You HAVE to do the grunt work, but it is good to remember what brought you here in the first place. Farming is hard work and drive can be in short supply. Enthusiasm is a great recipe for stamina, so keep the inspirations close at hand. 

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

This is easy. Layout. Ok, so yes I did do some planning, and layout was one of them, but with hindsight, we were not realistic. I won't get into specifics, but generally things like paths to walk on without having a limb hit you in the face is one of them. More gentle slopes and wider terraces so buckets are not falling over would be nice. It is easy, especially when you have a lot of plants on hand (listen up grafters), to stick plants everywhere there is square footage. Be warned...they grow. 

How do you go about marketing the good fruit?

This changes often. We began working the area farmers' markets, three a week for both trees and fruit, until that became too exhausting in addition to running the nursery. Those markets are a great thing for the community, and we really enjoyed the social aspect, but they are a time intensive way to market food. More recently we provide fruit to co op stores, occasional onsite sales and through farm to plate organizations. We have expanded into frozen fruit sales and cider production. Retail will always bring the highest price, and if you are into people, other rewards as well. This does not mean the most income, so keep a sharp pencil. Seeing a young'n beaming over your many varieties in classy wooden bins is measured in things other than money. 

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