A cool breeze blows between the rows of heirloom apple trees at Queener Farm in Scio, Ore., where Jeannie Berg plucks a small, unripened Almata apple to show its bright red flesh.
Almatas are just one of roughly 80 different apple varieties that Berg expects to pick from the orchard this year. Some, like Honeycrisp, are well known and popular. Others, like Calville Blanc d’hiver and Dumelow’s Seedling, are a bit more adventurous.
With such a diverse selection, Berg launched the Queener Farm Heirloom Apple Club in 2015, delivering boxes of unique, organically grown apples to members looking to broaden their palate.
“There are people who had no idea apples could taste this different,” Berg said.
For example, Berg described the Whitney crabapple, which she said is sweet with a distinctly vanilla flavor. On the other hand, there is the Alkmene apple, a juicy variety that Berg said tastes (and even sparkles) like lime soda.
The Heirloom Apple Club works on a community supported agriculture, or CSA, model. Members pay for apple boxes delivered every other week during the heart of the season, from roughly mid-July through October.
In turn, Berg said members are supporting the biodiversity of apples at Queener Farms, which has 2,000 heirloom trees — most of which are more than 20 and 30 years old.
“It is much more interesting and fun to both farm and market a wide variety of apples,” Berg said.
That biodiversity also poses an intellectual challenge on the farm, Berg said. Different varieties bloom and ripen at different times throughout the season, which means there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for pests, like codling moth, and fungal diseases prevalent across the Mid-Willamette Valley.
“We have all these variables in the orchard that are incredibly educational,” Berg said. “But the thing about them from a farm perspective is there is nothing about this farm that’s efficient.”
Berg, who took over farming at the 40-acre property in 2014, said she is also beginning to grow 700-800 new trees that will eventually be planted in the orchard.
“We feel that continuing to plant more orchard block is important,” Berg said. “Eventually as these trees get older, they’re not going to be as productive ... It’s sort of renewing over time.”
Along with the Heirloom Apple Club, Queener Farm offers U-pick days at the orchard and a Hard Cider Club featuring workshops taught by Zeb Dewar, of Baird & Dewar Farmhouse Cider.
Berg said the orchard at Queener Farm is “a laboratory like no other.”
“You may not love every apple in the box, but it’s never boring,” she said.