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Walden Heights Nursery & Orchard

Walden, Vermont

Todd Parlo

Walden Heights Nursery & Orchard
Todd Parlo
Tell us briefly 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 briefly 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 3 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.

Have you reviewed our take on certification of healthy orchard practices?

Of course.

List a few areas of orchard research to be undertaken.

Oh my, what don't we need to do. I really believe organic and sustainable agriculture is in many ways still in its infancy. We all know research into pest and pathogen management is pressing, but what we would like to attempt here, and what I'd like to see elsewhere are more sustainable approaches. Folks working without heavy imputs, heavy equiptment and fossil fuels to meet the challenges would be a welcomed change.

What goes into your nutritional foliar sprays?

We have only recently experimented with foliar sprays. Our mixes have included garlic, neem, horsetail, molasses, neem oil, fish, compost teas, effective microbes, and calcium, and seaweed mixtures.

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

Plant more 15 years ago. My first reaction to this question was to have planted half the plants on twice the acreage, but I frankly would have missed them, and I like working in a crowded landscape, since it is likely to be the case for future generations on a planet of so many. So I would plant more, more trees, more bushes. You can always cut them down.

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 will begin cider production for sale this coming year, which may plunge us back into the farmers' markets again.

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