This award-winning apple orchard, owned and operated by Tom and Karen Ferri, is like few others in Ontario and has 20 acres of high-density orchard with over 50,000 trees. Their apples are larger and tastier than many apples you've experienced before and the selection available at their farm-gate market during harvest in September and October includes Honey Crisp, Ambrosia, Mac, Mutsu, Gala, Cortland and Golden Delicious. In addition to apples, they offer apple blossom honey and Grandad Jack's Apple Cider, which is pressed on-site.
When Tom and Karen Ferri purchased the property in 2004, they decided to transition the orchard and go high-density. Really high density. While the industry standard is 1,200 trees per acre, they have been able to plant roughly 3,000 per acre using a "super spindle" system - the first Ontario orchard to do so. This tightly packed approach creates uniform, hedge-like rows of trees that make mechanical pruning possible, which in turn reduces their labour costs. Not only that, but it also cuts down on pesticide and chemical use. "We reach full production roughly 50% more quickly than a traditionally planted orchard," informs Tom, a third-generation apple grower.
Very community-minded, Tom and Karen are always looking to give back and have to date, donated over 75,000 pounds of their apples to area food banks. The orchard has also hosted wonderful events like the Community Longtable, which raises money for local charities and initiatives.
Farming doesn’t come without its challenges. A 2009 tornado made a direct hit on the farm and destroyed 85% of the producing trees. Rodent damage in 2010 killed over 1000 trees, and Mother Nature’s early spring followed by many nights of freezes in 2012 left the crop at 10%. "More recently, we were hit by a second smaller tornado in 2020, global warming is resulting in greater temperature fluctuations, particularly during the very critical bloom period, and we've got a wind machine to help with frost mitigation as well. We've had to hire a helicopter to push the air around, which comes at the rate of $1,750 per hour with a three-hour minimum. The helicopter will usually lift off between 3 a.m. - 4 a.m. and fly until just after sunrise." informs Karen. "Frost or freezing can severely reduce or damage a crop, hail can destroy a crop in seconds or leave apples disfigured so your fancy grade apples become juice apples which are far less profitable," she continues.
What does a day in the life of an apple farmer look like? Tom is up at 5:30 a.m. and works until about 8 p.m. six days a week. In the spring, he monitors for pests and diseases (and prays for no frost), does bloom thinning, which helps ensure the size and return bloom, and thins apples using a computer-generated model that Tom and his brother have developed an app for. Summer hand thinning is done to ensure a balanced apple load on each tree and there's summer pruning to remove some foliage to expose the apples to more light, improving their colour and flavour. Karen primarily takes care of all of the administration work that goes along with running your own business and manages the farm market. During harvest season, it's all hands on deck for the Ferri's and their crew of pickers.
Working with industry partners, the Ferri's are very supportive of research and development and their orchard is an experimental location for OMAFRA. Tom has been a panellist for the International Fruit Tree Association and sits on a precision thinning community based at Cornell University in New York state.
During the off-season, Tom keeps busy pruning larger limbs and servicing the farm machinery while Karen works on the marketing plan for the next year. When they do get to enjoy some much-deserved time off they reconnect with life by hanging out with their grandchildren, skiing and some travelling.
The farm-gate market at T&K Ferri Orchard is open in September and October and you can find it at 496415 Grey Road 2 in Clarksburg. Visit their website to learn more and follow them on Facebook or Instagram for updates during growing and harvest seasons.