Our farm was originally settled by the Edgerly family around 1790. Our house was built in, we think, 1793. The Dole family bought the land in the 1860s and started planting apples here in 1910. The Dole’s daughter Alice married Ralph Weston, a banker from Saco. When the bank went bust in 1932, Ralph Weston came to the farm and took over the operations. Alice Dole Weston died in 1972 and Ralph Weston died in 1987. Ralph’s heir was his niece, Eleanor Fish. Eleanor’s son-in-law ran the farm for two years before it was leased to Randall Orchards in Standish for the next four years.
Earl and Nancy Bunting bought the land in 1993. Earl and Nancy both grew up in New Jersey. Nancy grew up in the suburbs, just outside of Philadelphia. Earl grew up in a farming community a little farther south. As a kid, when Earl looked out his bedroom window, there was nothing but orchards. At thirteen, Earl started working in his neighbor’s orchard. He loved the opportunity to make some money and took advantage of every chance. Over the years he continued to work for his neighbor and was given a lot of responsibility at an early age and was also given the opportunity to learn about growing fruit. Loving the outdoors and being able to work outdoors were a large part of what made this an attractive lifestyle.
Earl and Nancy met in 1976 and married in 1977, Nancy also loved the outdoors and readily adopted Earl’s dream to someday have their own orchard. In 1980 Earl got a great job as Orchard Manager at Battleview Orchards in Freehold, NJ. This was an incredible learning opportunity. Norman Applegate, the owner of Battleview Orchards had a philosophy that he needed to keep his customers coming all season long with a variety of fruits. At Battleview, Earl was exposed to an outstanding Pick Your Own operation and this is the pattern that Earl and Nancy chose for the farm they hoped to own some day. This is also where he learned to grow strawberries.
The Buntings came to Maine in 1988 when Earl was hired as Orchard Manager at Co-Hi Orchards in Cornish. Co-Hi at that time consisted of four hundred acres of apples in Cornish, Limerick, Parsonsfield and Standish and 40 acres in Canterbury, NH and 160 acres in Petersborough and Temple, NH. This was a huge operation and was almost completely wholesale. This was another great learning opportunity; learning about the growing conditions in Maine and exposure to a lot of different orchards. After a few years the itch to buy an orchard was growing and with the real estate downturn of the early 1990s land had become much more affordable.
Dole’s orchard had been for sale since Ralph Weston died, his heir had the farm reappraised in the summer of 1992 and that is when Earl started negotiating with her. They finally came to terms in November and closed on February 1, 1993. The Bunting’s plan was to continue to sell most of their fruit wholesale while building up a PYO business. The wholesale apple business was in a poor state at the time and it ended up after a few years costing more to grow and pick the apples for wholesale than what they were worth. They planted strawberries first in 1993 and that was an instant hit. They also planted a large vegetable garden in front of the house and sold some excess at the farm. In the fall they started selling apples PYO.
This was also the time when their daughters Ashlee and Emily became an important part of the business. The vegetable business was looking interesting, and Nancy had been waitressing at a local restaurant that was buying some excess vegetables, so they started planting some more vegetables to sell to restaurants. Over the next few years the vegetable business was paying the bills, eventually they were planting 1200 lettuce per week and had seven greenhouses producing tomatoes and other veggies for up to twenty seven restaurants, two farmer’s markets and the farm stand at home. Vegetables are very labor intensive and finding good help was becoming a huge issue. In the mean time, they had also been planting more strawberries as well as blueberries, raspberries, peaches, plums and cherries. The PYO business was growing by leaps and bounds and given the problems with finding enough reliable help for growing the vegetables, the decision was made to get out of the vegetables and focus on the PYO fruit. This was a great decision and they have never looked back.
During this time Emily stayed on at the farm and Ashlee went off to college. Earl and Nancy had been trying to come up with ways to get more people out for PYO apples and had toyed with the idea of having some free music to give people an excuse to come pick our apples instead of going where they had always gone. Emily had met a Musician, John Cote, and another musician, Dale Cordle moved in just down the road. That gave them the access to musicians they had lacked and started the fall concert series that has really put us on the map as a successful PYO apple orchard.