Iconic Harwood Hill orchard on way back
BENNINGTON — The opportunity to buy one of Bennington's historic orchards last year was too much for members of the Howe family to resist.
Never mind that the recently untended 16-acre parcel known as Terry's Orchard needed tons of work to bring its 2,200 apple trees back to full production. The decision seemed a natural one on several levels, said family patriarch Jim Howe.
The orchard previously had a connection to the family's bee and honey business. And the family had a strong connection to longtime orchard owner and Hemmings Motor News publisher, the late Terry Ehrich, for whom Jim often worked on auto restoration projects.
Jim Howe and his wife Gail, son Adam, and daughter-in-law Ashley said they've been busy at the site since the first of the year, pruning, planting and replanting to bring Terry's Orchard on Harwood Hill back into production after a two-year hiatus.
"And mowing," said Adam Howe with a grin. "There's a lot of mowing."
Adam paid $65,000 in late December for the property, which now plays a key role in two family businesses.
The family's However Wild Honey bee and honey products business is not directly related to managing an orchard, but the site off Route 7A and Houghton Lane has served as a base for However Wild's bee hives.
"We kept bees here for about 15 years," Adam said, pointing to nearly three dozen hives stacked among the apple trees.
Terry's Orchard is one of several sites around the region where However Wild Honey has kept bees, which are moved as needed to help pollinate plants in bloom.
The bees also are trucked to sites in the Carolinas during the colder months, then returned via truck to meet the spring flowering season in New England.
"We now use this as a kind of a drop-off point," Adam said. "We have a lot of hives around Southern Vermont."
The connection to the orchard goes deeper, though. Jim Howe did auto restoration work for many years, and Ehrich, who died in 2002, "was my biggest customer," he said.
In more recent years, Howe added, "The bees have supplanted the restoration."
Began with bees
Meanwhile, the Shaftsbury-based However Wild Honey did not remain a backyard apiary. It now maintains bee yards around the region and offers not only the raw honey the company specializes in but also a line of beekeeping supplies and equipment, in addition to nucleus colonies and mated queens.
However Wild honey is sold through food cooperatives, health food stores and some area Hannaford stores.
Of course, now there's another demanding agricultural businesses to manage, the Howes said, and the orchard, which had been owned by a family trust and last operated in 2017, needed pruning, the removal, replanting or replacement of many trees, and plenty of other work to bring the orchard back.
"Basically, we're using about half of the orchard now," Jim Howe said. "It will take time to get it all back into production."
"We also planted some new (vintage) varieties," Adam said "We planted some Johnny Appleseed — the kind Johnny Appleseed planted; and we planted some Flower of Kent, which is the tree that Isaac Newton was sitting under when the apple fell on his head."
Gail Howe said they did research on some of the original varieties planted in the area during the time Bennington was settled.
"There was a Harwood Hill Orchard back in the 1700s," she said, and some of the recently introduced varieties "are based off of those."
"I think we planted another 10 varieties at least, maybe 12," Adam said of the small tree plantings, which won't produce apples for a few years.
Those were added to another dozen existing varieties, including McIntosh, Cortland and Empire.
About half the trees are expected to produce a crop for picking during the next September to mid-October season.
The Hemmings legacy
When he died at age 60 after a battle with lung cancer, Ehrich had been publisher and editor in chief of Hemmings Motor News, the monthly publication that called itself ''the bible of the old-car hobby,'' for more than 30 years.
He was known nationally and internationally for Hemmings, which has more than 200,000 old-car hobby subscribers and also is sold on newsstands and in bookstores.
Ehrich and his partners had purchased a small publication begun during the 1950s in Illinois by Ernest Hemmings. It was moved to Bennington in 1970, not far from Ehrich's hometown of Arlington. Over the years Hemmings grew exponentially and branched into specialty auto magazines as well.
Still based in Bennington, the business was acquired in 2002 by American City Business Journals Inc.
Locally, Ehrich also was known as the owner of the popular Terry's Orchard, and as an environmentalist and the creator of First Day Foundation in 1997. That encouraged schools to involve parents in their children's education by celebrating opening day each fall.
Ehrich purchased the Harwood Hill orchard during the mid-1980s.
Rob LaPorte, who knew both Ehrich and the Howes when he managed Terry's Orchard for many years, said he's excited to see it going back into production and owned by "an enthusiastic young man and his wife."
"When we operated it, for a long time the orchard was an integral part of the community," LaPorte said, "and I see Adam and Ashley bringing that back again."
Terry's Orchard was a popular "pick your own" orchard, and the Howes said they plan to revive that feature during this year's harvest season.
"That's what it's going to be — pick your own," Jim Howe said. "We used to come here to pick too; it was a tradition. I think it was for a lot of people in this area."
Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien
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