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Atkins’ season so great, apples can’t stay on trees by Jackson Cote

A year ago, Atkins Farms’ apple yield was suffering. Frost had gotten to the orchard, destroying the blossoming buds. It was a poor season, recalled part owner Pauline Lannon.

While cooler temperatures can be good for the redness of the apples—making these crisp, New England delicacies “color up,” according to assistant produce manager Paul Kosloski—too much coolness can be destructive. When temperatures hit 28 degrees or lower, the cold quickly goes from being a helpful presence to a stone-cold killer, halting the growth of the new apple blossoms.

But this season, the killer has retreated, and Atkins can’t even keep their apples on the trees because their yield is so great.

Hundreds of apples take residence in the coolers at Atkins Farms Country Market on Oct. 3, 2017.
“It was a good yield. It’s the best one in quite a few years.”

“We lost some of the Macouns and Macs—they just started dropping off because of the heat—but with the big plot of them, it wasn’t such a bad loss,” Kosloski said. “It was a good yield. It’s the best one in quite a few years.”

By quite a few years, Kosloski means about 10—a full decade of considerably mediocre apple seasons. He doesn’t know if the season was this good because of “the spring warmth that got the bees working,” but he emphasized that “the trees were loaded.”

Because of these overpopulated trees, the Atkins staff has been forced to thin them out. This process involves intentionally dropping the apples off of their branches to make room for others to grow, according to Carl Judicki, manager at Atkins’ produce apple department.

Judicki’s job is to essentially sell and market the apples in the store, occasionally changing the displays for the hundreds of apples resting in their crates at the front of the Atkins Farms Country Market on West Street in Amherst. He also keeps a line of communication going with the staff members who pick the apples at Atkins’ orchards just a half-mile away on Bay Road. Part of his job is to bring in quality, new and heirloom varieties of apples. However, this task hasn’t been too difficult to accomplish this fall, he noted.

Carl Judicki, manager at Atkins’ produce apple department, edits the displays for the apples at Atkins Farms Country Market.

“There’s been an abundance of apples this year,” Judicki said, and with this abundance comes better prices, both Kosloski and Lannon emphasized.

“The quality and the quantity’s there.”

“We don’t have to get a big price,” Kosloski said. “The quality and the quantity’s there.”

According to Lannon, the most popular sellers have been the McIntoshes, Cortlands and Macouns. Their Ginger Gold and Spencer apples from their former orchards in Belchertown have also sold well.

“It’s been a treat to be back in the full apple business,” Lannon said. “We’ve got some terrific apples here, and we’re expanding our orchards...We’ll have more varieties.”

Describing the process, Kosloski talked about how the apples are picked at the orchard, brought to Atkins, run through a conveyor belt and washed, polished off and shined with a little vegetable oil. Some, the more perfect-looking apples, are put into bags to be sold for a bit higher of a price tag than the utility apples, which are unwashed and usually dented or bruised.

Paul Kosloski, who has worked at Atkins Farms for 45 years, walks through Atkins Farms Country Market's coolers on Oct. 3, 2017.

“They don’t go through the procedure of washing them and polishing them up,” Kosloski said about the utility apples. “It’s just the way you get them, so we can sell them cheaper without the labor involved.”

The Cortland’s are an especially good utility apple, he noted, as they have two functions as an all-around tasty apple and as “one of the best pie apples.” Many of the Cortlands are cut into slices and packaged into large bags for the markets to use in their pies, for it takes quite some time for them to go bad.

Paul Kosloski stands in front of a bag of sliced apples at Atkins Farms Country Market on Oct. 3, 2017.

“[They’re] the way to go if you want to save a buck and don’t care,” he said.

Atkins’ selling has not just been limited to individual apples, though. They have also been stacking their shelves with popular apple-related items such as apple butter, apple strudel and apple cider donuts—an especially popular seller. For the two months of September and October, Atkins sold over 18,000 dozen apple cider donuts, according to Lannon—over 200,000 individual donuts.

“It’s a lot of donuts,” she said with a laugh.

The abundant apple season has also allowed Atkins to extend the amount of time they allow the public to come to the orchard and pick their own apples. For this weekend activity, pickers are driven up to the orchard, given containers to pick their apples and then pay depending on how many they pick. Atkins has been doing this for 40 to 50 years, according to Lannon—as long as she can remember.

“We have so many people who come back and say, ‘Oh, I remember going to Atkins with my family to pick apples,’” Lannon said. “People enjoy doing it. There’s nothing better than having a fresh picked apple from the tree.”

Photos by Jackson Cote.

Jackson Cote can be reached at jkcote@umass.edu and be followed on Twitter at jackson_k_cote.

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