County Ag Report - McElwain’s Apple Orchard

Published: Oct. 10, 2022 at 11:05 AM EDT
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“McElwain’s Strawberry Farm actually started as a farm that my grandfather purchased in 1910.”

When Frank McElwain’s grandfather purchased land on Sweden Street in Caribou to grow potatoes, he started a farming operation that would later be expanded by his son and grandson and is still operating one hundred and twelve years later.

“My father continued potato farming, and then he got into roadside sales, early potatoes, and then began to grow sweet corn and bedding plants, and so he’s the one that established that entity. Then he and I partnered in strawberries in the mid-80s.”

Around two thousand two, the McElwains saw another crop that would be a good fit for their operation and add to their fall produce offerings.

“So we were growing pumpkins in the Fall, vegetables and we saw an opportunity for apples, traveling around the state, complementing what we do. So we began planting apple trees about twenty years ago really. This orchard is about 250 trees which in the world or orchards is tiny, but it’s a nice size to complement our farm and what we do here.”

McElwain says the orchard was planned with the customer in mind.

“We designed it to be accessible for Upick, so the trees you see in the orchard, many of them are full-grown trees but not really tall. They’re actually what they call dwarf or semi-dwarf trees grafted onto rootstock that keeps them from being too tall. So families and kids can come out and grab an apple and they don’t have to climb ladders or do that kind of thing or climb the trees.”

And with all the apples you’ll find at the grocery store, chances are you’ll find something different in the orchard.

“They’re different varieties many times from what you can buy in the store. They’re varieties that are winter hardy first of all for Northern Maine. It’s kind of fun to come out and try different ones and different types and which ones are sweeter, which ones have a sweet-tart taste, which ones are better for pies or for applesauce or for any other kinds of uses.

And which variety is this farmer’s favorite?

“My favorite is the Zestar for fresh eating. If I’m going to have a snack in the middle afternoon, I’ll go find a Zestar. Honeycrisp is right up there, Macoun. I eat them all, but that’s kind of the tier of choice for me.

Bernie Lagasse, NEWSSOURCE 8