Josh, Emma and Judy Dimock, their grandmother, pick apples after school at North Star Orchards. Photo by Ramona du Houx

By Ramona du Houx

Apple trees in Maine were laden with fruit and the harvest is predicted to be the best year since 2002.

North Star Apple Orchards, off route 43, just outside of Madison, has been owned and run by the Dimock Family since 1976. Schools, and the public begin to stream onto the farm when the first leaves begin to change color. The farm provides a public picnic area and their woodlands are open for hiking or hunting, but most patrons come for the experience of picking a wide variety of apples.

“Picking apples really is a special time to share with family and friends. I’ve had return customers come in and tell me how much they remembered their original visit. One man recalled playing in the sand box, with some of the toys that are still there,” said Judy Dimock who helps run the farm with her family. “Another woman said a visit here was really being among the greatest riches on earth.”

The orchard produces about 20,000 bushels of apples annually with McIntosh being 65 percent of the yield and Cortland 15 percent. The other varieties include Paula Red, Ginger Gold, Macoun, Empire, and Northern Spy. The apples are available in six Hannafords and local grocery stores. North Star’s farm store displays a variety of Made in Maine products associated with apples, thoughtful items for the kitchen, amongst other gifts, cider, pumpkins, and of course apples.

“It’s much more common to have people say to us, ‘We want you to stay here’,” said Jennifer Dimock, store manager. “There’s very much an increasing awareness of the loss of agricultural businesses and land.”

“Recently there have been more people coming to the store, because the message that buying from local farms is good for their health, and for the community,” said Judy. “The Get Real Get Maine program and Buy Local programs have been wonderful for us. Many customers understand that farming needs local support.”

Last spring the family planted six hundred dwarf apple trees to accommodate the market’s current taste in apples. The upkeep on the farm is continuous, caring for the trees year round. North Star only uses chemicals when there is a special need to help the apple trees.

“Our first goal is to grow a product of value to the community and to do so in an environmentally responsible manner,” said Judy. “We are also proud to be able to share this very special and beautiful place with others.”

North Star provides tours for local schools and welcomes inquires about private tours. Local service organizations use the farmlands for fund-raising events.

“In the last three years, people have really understood that unless they take an active part in supporting the farms, they’re not going to be here,” said Judy. “I’d love to see the property continue to be in our family for generations to come. We’ve been very fortunate; we never tried to become wealthy. A lot of people who visit here say they would give up what they are doing to be able to have a farm like this.”

With 3,400 acres of apple trees statewide, Maine orchards yielded a crop of 619,000 bushels in 2006 brining in $9.2 million in agricultural revenue. This year’s apple crop is yielding twice as much as it did last year.

“It was a good year. With apple farming you never have the feeling of maybe you’ll get a pink slip tomorrow. You’re in charge, it’s your business, but you can’t control the weather,” said Judy. “You become confident that whatever the weather throws at you, everything will be all right. That’s when the family really comes together and you work out solutions. It gives the children lessons in life they can’t get anywhere else.”

The Farm store is open Sept – Dec 24, every day 10-5. Jan-Aug on Saturdays and Sundays.

Emma Dimock and her father, Rob, of North Star Apple Orchards. Rob’s wish is for his children to be able to, and want, the opportunity to carry on the family business