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Applegates’ market still solid to core

By RICHARD SKELLY
AFP Correspondent

FREEHOLD (June 15, 2015) — Monmouth County used to be the state’s No. 1 apple growing county, Battle View Orchards owner Scott Applegate said while surveying his 120-acre property.
Housing and commercial development through the 1980s and ’90s put an end to that, which in turn puts Applegate and his children, who want to continue the family orchards, in a unique position.
Their retail farm market, where they sell everything from eggs to vegetables and fruits raised on and off their farm, as well as a variety of baked goods prepared in their kitchen, seems to have a constant flow of customers on weekends.
Applegate and his wife Lisa, have three children, at least two of whom want to continue farming, he said. They employ about 20 people during the off-season and about 140 during their busy season, which runs from July through Thanksgiving. 
Scott said they’ve positioned Battle View Orchards as a place to get back to nature, offering customers the chance to pick their own strawberries and other fruits, as well as opening the farm up to agri-tourists in the fall.
Their location, minutes off Route 9 makes the facility easily accessible to people from Manhattan, Staten Island and Brooklyn, all located between 25 and 35 miles away.
Scott is a fourth-generation farmer. In 1995, he and Lisa purchased the property from Scott’s parents, who wanted to “semi-retire” to Vermont, where they continued working on an apple farm up there.   They are now fully retired and live in Georgia.
“For me, I think it’s a positive thing when families come in here and pick their own produce,” Lisa explains in the office attached to the retail farm market, “it seems to be rewarding for them, they have a positive memory of what takes place here, and we take satisfaction with that, as well as the fact that every day is different here.”
Lisa handles much of the merchandising, which is impressive and creative in terms of the array of baked goods, vegetables, fruits and other products offered, while Scott handles the business of tending to literally thousands of apple, cherry, peach and nectarine trees, as well as the vegetables grown on site in season, which include tomatoes and corn. Customers are not allowed to pick their own vegetables, Lisa points out.
Asked how they separate their retail farm market from other produce chain stores in the area, Lisa said her employees are trained to be extra helpful and friendly.
“You can come and pick your own strawberries here and stop in at our market, and a lot of the stuff here you can also get at a Wegman’s or a Whole Foods, but we try to create an atmosphere of customer friendliness, so we find that people often choose us over the bigger produce chains,” she said.
Lisa has a degree in psychology from Georgian Court University in Lakewood and married Scott in her last year of college. Her farm training was all on-the-job.
“On the other hand, Scott is a true farmer, and every day he’s up at 4:30 in the morning and he’ll go from then until whatever time he needs to, each day. It really is a lot of work.”
Touring the orchards in his truck, Scott says he and his family and employees farm a total of 100 acres in production, about 50 acres of apple trees, 20 acres of peach trees, five to eight acres of sour cherries and 10 acres of sweet corn, an acre or two of strawberries and an acre or two of tomatoes for the retail outlet.  Scott and his crews grow a large variety of apples including Gala, Ginger Gold, Honey Crisp, Red Delicious, Empire, McCowan, Golden Delicious, Fuji’s and Granny Smiths.
Scott said he relies largely on growing up in farming and getting advice from researchers to get the job done.
“I’m out here every day. I do my own spray schedules and you get help from Rutgers if you need it. But in this business, if you grow up in any type of agriculture, you learn from experience,” he says. “The education is hands-on, on-the-farm. The weather is constantly changing and some winters are colder than others. It all goes in cycles, so you keep good records and you watch out for frost.” 
By way of advice to others with smaller farms or even backyard fruit growers, he offered: “Keep good records, stay on top of weather forecasts, and keep good people around you.
You also get a good feel for what works and what doesn’t through trial-and-error,” he said, noting “all the chemicals we use to spray have gotten a lot more environmentally friendly, there are now softer pesticides for specific targets. They’re all much safer than they used to be. Most growers are careful and conscious; you spray only when you need to spray and apply things only when you need to.”
Lisa said the cider making operations separate Battle View from other produce retailers.
“When I first started working here in 1990, there were still those people around that canned and believed in buying local food. Now we’re cycling back to that,” she says. “We’re cycling back to the side where people want to know what’s in their food and where it comes from. We press our own cider here on the premises and then we have our pies and donuts and other things people come back for again and again. There’s something to be said for remaining who you are, that’s why people came to you in the first place. I would say we’re best known and most appreciated for our apple cider and our donuts.”