Apples, pies, cider (sweet and hard)… Les vergers de Soons have it all | Farms & CSAs | Hudson Valley
Cut an apple across its “equator,” and the central seed cavity forms a five-pointed star. In Orange County, the transformation of Soons Orchards is symbolized by this image. The fourth-generation family farm has grown from a single seed to five successful businesses, all centered around this humble apple.
In 1910, William Soons (himself a New York transplant) planted apple trees to supplement his dairy farm in the southern Orange County hamlet of New Hampton. He sold apples wholesale, as did his son, Sinclair.
In the early 1960s, Sinclair’s son Arthur, a recently discharged army veteran of the Korean War, succeeded his father. At that time, the wholesale industry was no longer so lucrative. So Arthur took the business in a different direction, opening the Soons Orchards agricultural retail store which has been a staple in the area ever since.
The art, as it is called, still toils on the 30 acres of orchards. “He’s 89 now, and he still goes out every day,” says his daughter, Sharon. “We want him to slow down, but he’s sneaking around.”
Farm Shop and Bakery
The 2,000-square-foot farm store exclusively sold produce grown on the Soons’ 100-acre property for 30 years before innovation struck again. Art’s daughter, Laura Thornton, and her husband, Scott, began selling baked goods under the Scotty’s Country Kitchen brand in the farm store in 1987.
“Now we have a few gluten-free products, holiday sugar cookies and cheesecakes, but our staples are fruit pies, turnovers, carrot cake muffins,” says Sharon. “They have no incentive to change, because everyone is happy with what they offer!”
The same can be said for the store itself, where customers can count on applesauce, apple cider, apples (of course), cider donuts, fudge, hot corn, and almost any the types of products in season at that time. The coolers offer local milk, eggs and butter. The comprehensive selection of grocery stores attracted many more locals during the COVID pandemic, when they chose Soons over more crowded supermarkets.
The pandemic-fueled rise stabilized somewhat, but Soons retained its key customers. “It’s hard to get people to make the extra trip here instead of just going to the supermarket,” says Sharon. “But our apples will always be better than theirs.”
In 1998, Art’s son, Jeff Soons, planted apple trees specifically for customers to pick. Three years later, Soons’ U-Pick program was opened to the public, taking customers on hay rides through orchards to pick their own juicy fruit.
Soons grows 85 varieties of apples on 30 acres about two and a half blocks from the farm store. Most are grown specifically for hard cider. “We call them ‘spitters’ because that’s what you’d want to do if you bit into one,” Sharon says of the bitter varietals. But 25 varieties are to eat and are available at the farm store and pick-your-own. “We harvest certain varieties of apples starting in late July to sell at the farm store, but pick-your-own opens on Labor Day weekend and lasts until we run out of apples, usually after Columbus Day weekend in October,” she says. “Last year we had an incredible harvest of apples and our pick-your-own didn’t end until mid-November.
The picking schedule also depends on whether or not visitors knock too many apples on the ground. Soons employs most of its workers on a seasonal basis, with around 40 employees during peak apple season, but they are not paid to pick from the field. “People forget that we would need to employ humans to pick up these drops – we don’t have a machine to do that, and picking up the drops is not a fun job,” Sharon says. “You’re not supposed to use drops for regular cider, so we usually end up leaving them on the floor and it’s a waste.” So next time you go pick your own, try not to knock too many off the tree in the process.
Orchard Hill Tap Room and Farmhouse Dinners
Eight years ago, Jeff Soons and two associates, Karl DuHoffman and Andrew Emig, decided to make the switch from famed farmhouse apple cider to hard cider. Named after the original farmhouse, Orchard Hill’s tap room is adjacent to the farmhouse store, with a similar cupola on top (“We love cupolas here,” Sharon smiles) and string lights Edison shimmering above an outdoor patio.
Friday through Sunday during the warmer seasons, the Orchard Hill Tasting serves hard cider — what Soons calls “sweet cider’s cool cousin” — and pommeau, an apple brandy. If cider isn’t your thing, you can also order selected local craft beers, wines, whiskeys and cocktails. “The farm shop has fantastic and loyal customers; I would love to see younger customers become regulars, and I think the tap room will help with that,” says Sharon. A menu of seasonal and local dishes, with options ranging from snacks to full dinner, is available. There is regular live music on the terrace, as well as happy hours advertised on the Soons website and on Instagram.
Speaking of dining, Soons Farm dinners have exploded in popularity since their inception in 2009. On farm dinner nights, guests start at Orchard Hill with cocktails and appetizers. Little do they know that while they’re sipping their twilight drinks and eating their amuse-bouche, the Soons staff are madly moving all of the free-standing displays from the farm shop into a cramped storage space in the back. (“Did you notice that everything is on wheels in there?” Sharon said).
Tables and chairs are set up to accommodate 48 guests. Chef Anthony Acevedo, an Orange County native and CIA graduate, describes the preparation of each course as guests are served a delicious, multi-course meal. “There is a question-and-answer session; it’s very interactive,” says Sharon. “Then my dad comes in and offers an update on the farm. We try to educate people on why we do what we do.
Always looking to innovate and diversify, one of Soons newest events is the Peach Blossom Tour. In April, at the peak of bloom, guests are escorted through the three-acre April-to-April peach orchard to experience the ethereal scent of the cathedral of delicate blossoms. “Peach trees are a labor-intensive fruit here and difficult to grow; the tour celebrates the beauty of flowers,” says Sharon.
Thanks to the Farm Store, Scotty’s Country Kitchen, U-Pick, Orchard Hill, Farm Dinners, and special events like the Flower Tour, Soons Orchards has full parking most weekends of the year. year. Where are all these carfulles of people coming from?
“Well, it depends on when you walk through the door,” Sharon says of the company’s clientele. “I think all locals know to stay away on Labor Day weekend.” Visitors come from about a two-hour radius, from Long Island; Connecticut; Pennsylvania; and of course New York. And it’s the locals who “keep the lights on in February”, when tourists aren’t visiting.
Every customer is valued at Soons, whether they’ve walked a mile or 100.” says Sharon. “They remember us every year, and we remember them.” This is a testament to the customer loyalty Soons enjoys, as well as the home-shopping experience the store offers, with free samples of homemade apples, cider, and peanut butter.
The iconic homemade billboard on Route 6/17M, directing customers to the Farm Shop, is a well-known landmark in the area. “Sometimes a person will come and say, ‘I walked past this sign for 25 years and finally decided to come in. I say, ‘Well, don’t wait another 25 years to come back!’ Sharon chuckles.
The farm shop is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. “And if dad is in a good mood, he’ll take you out to the field and show you around,” Sharon says.