McClymont Century Orchards, an fresh fruit farm located just outside of Varna, is now operated by the 5th generation of the McClymont family with a sixth generation learning the business – particularly the retail side of farming – and earning funds for their education. We met Ben Driscoll, whose wife Crystal Whyte is a direct descendant of the Scottish McClymont family, on the farm last week. Ben told us how the orchard was a fourth love – after this family and his two other careers as he is a full time paramedic and (with his wife) a cash crops, beef and chicken farmer. The family homestead is rented out as the Driscoll’s farm and home is located approximately 30 minutes away from the orchard. For these reasons, keeping up with pruning in the orchard is a true challenge.
The Driscoll’s, having grown up in this rural area of southwestern Ontario, felt strongly that their children (aged 9-15 years) understand the farm-to-table food chain, and they hope to share the desire to keep the family tradition alive, connecting this generation to their ancestors.
He told us how commercial farming has impacted this business for some time and that this 4-acre orchard is the smallest of five in Huron County. Until 10-15 years ago, this farm was operated by Ivan McClymont – Ben’s uncle-in-law. When Ivan took sick the farm was rented to other operators for a successive five years each until they discovered how financially challenging and labour intensive the orchard business can be. More recently, Ben & Crystal and brother-in-law Brian Whyte and his wife Kerri and their family took the operations of the orchard back.
These families struggle to maintain current trends and the movement toward increased density in the orchard – 1500-2000 trees/acre – as it’s very expensive to start, although much more manageable to maintain. It’s also not as conducive to growing heritage brands.
Tydamen Red | Ida Red | Paula Red | Tolman Sweet | Jersey Mac
Red Delicious | Empire | Wolf River | MacIntosh | Mutsu/Crispin | Snow | King
Cortland | Northern Spy | St. Lawrence | Russet | Golden Delicious | Wealthy | Royal Gala
Thirteen heritage brand apples are still grown on this property. He finds the flavours and textures more palatable, although some have a very short shelf live so don’t lend themselves to sales. Consumers are demanding the newer brands like the two trendiest right now – Honey Crisp and Ambrosia. In comparison Ben noted there are 200 red delicious trees on the farm and last year just one bushel was sold commercially. Not a popular brand right now!
The family sells direct to the consumer at the Exeter Farmer’s Market, Covenant Garden Market in London and at the farm-gate. He finds consumers are very interested in these brands of apples and finds when his children are with, him telling their knowledge of the products, the consumers are even more keenly captivated. Apparently the children already enjoy the retail aspects of the business
The current orchard on Parr Line was replanted in 1972, however there are four or five trees planted just after WWI that are still producing fruit. An integrated pest management (trap) system on the farm is implemented, however it is often necessary to spray.
Ben noted this year’s crop is about average, while 2013 had a heavy yield following the 2012 season which was totally wiped out due to the late frost that year. This past winter, moles damaged a number of trees as they burrowed deep in the long colder-than-usual season. Apple farmers prefer dry weather as the moisture brings out the bugs.
Early varieties ready now, include the fragrant Vistabella, but they don’t get sold at the markets as they have no shelf life. We enjoyed a taste, and I found it sweet, tart and porous – but they browned quickly. In late August the Paula Reds, Summer Reds and Tydeman Reds will all be ready, the latter being a great cooking apple. Every two weeks a new variety will mature until October.
Ben’s favourite is the St. Lawrence, which is like a green McIntosh – tart, crispy and juicy. McIntosh apples are a very popular variety too – crisp off the tree, but softens within a week or so.
Wolf River is another brand grown here. It is a good cooking apple, not so great for eating raw. But what is distinctive about this brand is its enormous size – Ben indicating larger than the palms of his combined hands.
Apples are hand-picked. The Driscoll’s currently retain one part time employee and suggest that staff is difficult to recruit as fruits blemish easily and many employees often just don’t take the care required to ensure a premium product gets to the market. At the orchard you can pick your own, or buy direct from the stand at the gate. Maps are available on site to direct you to a tree that grows the brand you’re looking for.
Bosch, Bartlett and Anjou pears are also available for sale at Century Orchard Farms beginning, consecutively, from early September to the end of September, a new brand maturing every couple of weeks. Pears are not as popular with consumers but one tip Ben shared was to refrigerate pears until ready to eat to maintain quality taste.
McClymont Century Orchards
74881 Parr Line, VARNA, ON
519-525-7771 or 519-524-3830