In the fall, there’s nothing more quintessentially New England than sipping a glass of cider on a chilly day.
Apple orchards and farms are as much a part of autumn in western Mass as leaf peeping and pumpkin pie, and in our next story, Connecting Point’s Brian Sullivan visited one of those farms in Colrain, Massachusetts. At Pine Hill Orchard, you’ll find a father and son who’ve bonded over their love of growing apples and pressing fresh cider each year.
Learn more about the father and son team behind Pine Hill Orchards in a digital exclusive segment.
Read the full transcription:
Brian Sullivan, Connecting Point: It’s mid-morning here at Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain, Massachusetts. And that means somewhere within the confines of this 70-acre property, there’s a father and son combo doing what they’ve been doing for nearly their entire lives: running an apple farm.
Each may be considered trendsetters in today’s climate, where there’s been a renewed movement to get out of the city and back to the country. Matt Schearer was well ahead of that curve back when he was just 20-yearsold.
Matthew Shearer, Pine Hill Orchards: I went to college; I went to Stockbridge and came back right after Stockbridge in ’96 and have been here ever since. And it’s really gratifying.
I love riding around our farm and — and seeing all of this, and I want it to stay here and — and keep doing it.
Brian Sullivan: As for dad, that plan started back in 1970 when his father decided that the orchards were too much of a burden to keep up with.
David Shearer, Pine Hill Orchards: I didn’t like milking cows, and I actually was in school to study pathology and — and plant growing. So, I came home one day, and my father said, “I don’t want to take care of the orchard anymore. Do you want it?”
I think it was 4:00 in the morning and he was going out, and I was coming in and I said, “Yeah, sure.”
So, I’m in the apple business.
Brian Sullivan: And so far, business is good. While several other wholesalers fell by the wayside over time, Pine Hill continued to chug along by shifting their focus to retail and keeping things local.
Having this walk-in refrigerator has been a nice touch that customers seem to enjoy.
And of course, it wouldn’t be complete without hot and fresh cider donuts being made right here on the premises. Operations around here start first thing in the morning and run all year long.
Brady Shearer, Pine Hill Orchards: It starts pretty early, usually around 7 a.m., the guys get started. They’re going to go out and start picking.
From there, we kind of it depends on what we’re doing for the day. So, it’s either picking to pack apples or picking to press cider. We picked a pressed cider. The apples come in; they go inside the building. If they’re not going to get stored right away, then they’re going to go right into cider. They go out back to the — the cider hole. They get dropped into the hopper and then we start pressing from there.
Brian Sullivan: Pine Hill Orchards can be found smack dab in the middle of the main road that runs through town. So, it’s pretty hard to miss. Although there were a couple of years when it wasn’t so visible.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing here. Back in 2001, an electrical fire burned this entire building to the ground. Actually, it wasn’t the entire building that burned down.
There was one room that somehow managed to survive. That would be the cider room and thank goodness it did. Also, thanks to the reinforced concrete walls that protected it from the fire. Not to sound hyperbolic, but this room is quite literally the heart of the operation. If those countless bushels of apples plan on becoming cider, they’re coming through here.
So, exactly how much cider gets pressed and pumped out of this room?
Matthew Shearer: It depends on the day, but we make we make about 12 to 1,400 gallons of cider a day. This time of the year, we’re making it most days. We’ve really built that cider business up over the last ten years or so, and we’re making, you know, 100-120,000 gallons of cider a year.
David Shearer: We have an old racking cloth press which has been retrofitted to meet all today’s standards. So, in the world of cider-making and we’re a pretty small operation, but we can make pretty premium cider with these old presses.
Brian Sullivan: Pine Hill is just one of dozens of orchards statewide, each unique in their rustic New England charm. There’s a reason that the field trip to the local farm has always been a favorite for school age children. Or why pick your own season brings people out in droves from far and wide.
It’s for the experience and farming families like the shearers know this and are more than happy to oblige the public.
Brady Shearer: We want people to come here and have a full farm experience and enjoy what we love doing every day. So, we try to give them that, you know? And we’re proud of what we do and we love what we do and we want to share that with our community.
You know, we try to get involved with the community and do other things, too. We like to have different events here and really kind of share our farm with everyone else.