BEDFORD – The temperature is dropping, the landscape is changing color and as the first day of fall approaches, the seasonal shift means one thing: It’s apple season.
At their orchard in rural Taylor county, Steven and Cynthia Wainwright have started welcoming individuals to their century farm – Ladoga LaBlanche Orchards – in Bedford. Steven Wainwright’s great-grandfather, Arthur Wainwright, first homesteaded there in 1872. For Wainwright, growing apples has become more than part of his family’s legacy, it’s “cemented in his DNA.”
In the 1980s, Wainwright, who still carries childhood memories of growing apples and visiting neighboring orchards with his grandparents and parents, started planting trees with his father Edgar Wainwright Jr. on the family farm once again. As he grew into his role as a fourth generation apple farmer and took over the family farm with his mother Mary Ellen Wainwright, he named the orchard.
“Ladoga” is a tribute to his great-grandfather’s early homesteading days. Wainwright said his great-grandfather would pack his apples in barrels of sawdust and take them to a train station in Lodoga – now an unincorporated community in Washington Township in Taylor County – where they were transported to Chicago, Denver, Omaha and Kansas City.
The “LaBlanche” is a tribute to his grandmother Blanche Wainwright, whom Wainwright credits his love of nature to.
“She had some beautiful flower gardens. They had a small orchard at that time, so she kind of taught me the beauty of God’s creation,” he said.
Since the 1980s, Wainwright has continued to plant trees, amassing more than 1,000 to harvest from each year. The varieties include Johnny Gold, Jonathon, Red and Gold Delicious, MacIntosh, Granny Smith, Gala and Honey Crisp. He suggests calling ahead to make sure certain varieties are available if the apples are needed for a specific use. Some are more suited for baking, making apple butter or ciders, than others.
Wainwright said the experience of picking apples with one’s family and friends is a fun experience, and there’s nothing better than harvesting fresh fruit from the tree.
“You can come down and pick your fruit so you’re the first one to touch it,” he said.
Harvesting apples isn’t the only activity at Lodoga LaBlanche Orchards, which is also known “Home of the Little Red Schoolhouse.”
Wainwright said he spent his career as a pastor in Iowa and parts of Nebraska before he moved back to the family farm full-time four years ago to help care for his mother. To honor her, he had a red school house built, which is where he showcases memorabilia from Mary Helen’s 50 year teaching career. She lived to be 101 and died in Nov. 2019.
While his still operates the family farm in Bedford, Wainwright, who said he missed pastoring, came out of retirement to serve as pastor at Hopkins First Christian Church in Hopkins, Missouri. Additionally, he has carried the torch of his mother’s teaching legacy in the most fitting way – dressing up as the iconic Johnny Appleseed each year as he shares the history of apples with area students who tour his family’s orchard and “little red schoolhouse.”
Keep it local
Wainwright said there are many benefits to buying apples locally – first is freshness. He said many of the apples sold in grocery stores are last year’s apples.
According to the USDA website, some fruit distributors treat their apple bins with a gaseous compound, 1-methylcyclopropene, to extend the fruits' post-storage quality by blocking ethylene, a colorless gas that naturally regulates ripening and aging. The same chemical is used to slow the browning of of broccoli, lettuce, and bitterness in carrots. The gas, paired with climate-controlled storage, can help apples keep for up to 10 months before they are consumed.
“If they are not last year’s, they are apples not from America,” said Wainwright. “Because, of course, during the winter, there’s no place an apple is going to grow in the United States.”
The apples at Wainwright’s orchard aren’t shiny like the ones found in stores, because they are coated in a powder the fruit produces naturally which helps keep them from drying out or getting saturated with rain as they grow.
Store bought apples that are produced by large corporations are typically shiny due to a wax and kerosene coating, which maintains the fruit in its original firm, plump condition for a relatively long period of time. The wax and kerosene coating was first patented by the Brodex Company in 1922.
The process of fruit waxing merges food preservation and food presentation. The fungicides inhibit mold growth, control fruit respiration to delay ripening and protect the fruit from bruising as they go through the picking, packing and shipping process. The wax makes it possible for apples to be sold months after they leave the tree and still maintain their appeal.
“That’s why they don’t really have the fresh taste that you’d like to have,” Wainwright said.
“People got in the habit of wanting that perfect apple, but it’s not really what the apple looks like on the outside – it’s how it tastes on the inside,” Wainwright said.
Experience Ladoga LaBlanche
Ladoga LaBlanche Orchard is more than a food source, it’s an experience. While guests are welcome to come by during normal business hours to pick apples, appointments can be made outside normal business hours and “hardy stock” can stay at the Cider House Cabin Retreat.
Wainwright said, if scheduled in advance, groups can schedule weenie roasts over an open fire and he offers hayrides and tours.
Despite having to cancel their community events such as the Apple Butter Festival this year due to COVID-19, Wainwright said the experience of picking apples can be done safely, as the open air environment allows plenty of space to socially distance. He does, however, recommend wearing facial coverings.
Visit Ladoga LaBlanche Orchards at 1598 State Highway 2. For more information, visit littleredschoolhouseorchards.com or call 712-303-7766.