The sun blazed down on Orchard No. 3 at Mack’s Apples on a peculiar September day when the temperatures approached 100 degrees right there in Londonderry. Nevertheless, Ginny and Scott Gallagher patrolled the orchard with their grandkids, filling multiple bags with early season McIntoshes.
They come every weekend during the fall, and Scott Gallagher said if it were up to his 4-year-old granddaughter, they would be at the orchard even if they had to trudge through snow.
“She asks to go apple picking every time we drive by,” he said. “Even in the winter.”
As soon the calendar reads September, farms across New Hampshire open up their U-Pick orchards. Weekends see hordes of families collecting bushels and pecks of apples and selecting the perfect Halloween pumpkin from the pumpkin patch.
Michael Cross, the farm manager at Mack’s, said that the lure of those perfect fall days has turned apple picking into an irresistible New England tradition. Mack’s, which has had a pick-your-own operation since the 1960s, is one of the largest in the state.
“It's a good family thing to do on a weekend,” Cross said. “If you live in the city it gets you out into the country, fresh air and sunshine. It’s something the whole family can do, and people like apples. It is the fall thing to do to get apples, cider and pumpkins.”
Orchards also roll out other fall-themed activities for families. Apple Hill Farm in Concord offers hayrides on the weekend, pulling families up to the top of its hill, which provides views over the orchard. Apple Hill co-owner Diane Souther said the farm is in a secluded location in the northern part of the city, making for a serene country setting that’s easily accessible.
“There are swings on the hill kids can hike to and we have a farm pond with wildlife,” she said. “Kids love exploring the pond. It surprises the kids because when you do get on the hill, you see trees in all directions.”
Just a few miles from Mack’s, Sunnycrest Farm has been a family-owned Londonderry farm since 1943. Suzanne Hunt, an employee at the farm for nearly 10 years, said for families looking for a low-key apple picking experience, Sunnycrest can be a good option.
With a farm stand, orchard area and a petting pen with goats and sheep, Hunt said, Sunnycrest offers families the fall experience in a smaller, more intimate setting.
She said the farm’s owners, Dan and Kelley Hicks, are involved in the community and easily accessible at the farm. That, combined with the farm’s no-frills attitude, makes it desirable for local families and travelers hoping to avoid the large crowds.
“If [apple-pickers] are looking for something small and not touristy, this is it,” Hunt said. “It’s family-friendly and off the beaten path.”
Cross said exploring the farms can also be a good way for families to learn about local agriculture. He said the staff at Mack’s is happy to talk with visitors about what it takes to run a farm of such magnitude and about the fruit that grows on its acreage.
“You’re supporting the local economy and local growers and the product is as fresh as it can be,” Cross said. “With the grocery stores, you don’t know how many times it's been handled or where it came from.”
Ginny Gallagher said her family is lucky to live near the orchard and have such easy access to homegrown apples.
“The kids love it,” she said. “There’s nothing like an apple right off the tree.”