A ‘Gala’ event at Stevens Orchard
Harvey Stevens and Marika Parenteau, the owners and operators of Stevens Orchard in Stanstead, had to be happy, last Sunday, to see so many people from the community come out to take part in the orchard’s first ‘Gala event’. Under gloomy skies, teachers and students from Sunnyside Elementary and Jardin-des-Frontieres school, along with parents, grandparents and several
students from Stanstead College’s Community Service Program, picked and sorted Royal Gala apples, putting aside all the ‘junior’ or undersized Gala apples for the students at the two elementary schools.
“We have many under- size Gala apples which are very good apples. They have to be 2 ½ inches wide to be Grade A Fancy, and many of our apples are 2 ¼ inches wide. They’re sorting them out and we’ll store them in our refrigerator and deliver them to the schools throughout the year,” explained Harvey Stevens on Sunday night after a busy day of harvesting. “A community event builds community pride, and now we have a healthy snack for the students from an environment less than two kilometers away, that saves on packaging. So the environmental aspects of the project are good,” he added.
He and his wife Marika were also happy to see families spending time together in a healthy environment, after all, it’s one of the reasons they began planting the orchard in the first place. “We started planting in 1998 and kept planting every year, mostly dwarf and semi-dwarf apple trees. We now have close to three thousand trees,” said Mr. Stevens. His son, Andrew, also helps at the orchard.
Asked why he and his wife got into apple farming, he explained: “My grandfather Blais was an avid apple person, planting and grafting apples. My wife and I were interested in agriculture and we like being outside, we had the land, so we did a four year market study and saw we could integrate our views with apple production; after we added raspberries and blueberries. We also wanted an environment where families could come together. When I was young, my parents would hide soft drinks and chocolate bars on ‘Candy Hill’ and my two sisters and I would spend the afternoon looking for them. With an orchard it’s a similar theory: families spending time together in a natural environment, but the apples are healthier!”
Like the Galas that were being picked last Sunday, Harvey and Marika like to grow varieties that “people are discovering.” Along with the usual varieties like Melba, Cortland, Spartan and Empire, they grow Macoun, Paulared, Sunrise, Ginger Gold, the much sought after Honey Crisp, and Red and Golden Delicious apples which are the last to ripen. “We’re still researching other varieties here in the orchard. Lots of people thought we couldn’t grow Galas here because they usually do better in a warmer climate,” commented Harvey.
After last Sunday’s community picking event, about one thousand pounds of ‘junior’ Galas were put aside for the students of Sunnyside and Jardin-desFrontieres. Pickers and sorters are returning to the Stevens Orchard this coming Sunday to try and reach their goal of two thousand pounds. “We’re having another ‘Gala’ event between 1:00 and 5:00 on Sunday. We hope lots of people come out and it’s nice and sunny like they’ve predicted.”
Asked about this year’s growing season, the apple producer replied: “It’s been an extraordinary apple season. There were no problems with pollination, no hail, lots of water. Everything came together and the trees have been just loaded with apples of good quality. It’s the best season we’ve seen for apples, raspberries and blueberries. We were even picking blueberries on Thanksgiving Sunday!”
Lekaesha Bryant and Vanessa Stratton, who both go to Galt, and Jed Bryant and Ryan Stratton, from Sunnyside, dressed in winter coats to pick Galas last Sunday at the Stevens Orchard.
Harvey Stevens and Marika Parenteau, with son Andrew in between, at their apple farm in Stanstead.