Youngsters learn `A' is for apple

Baugher's Orchard and Farm field trip teaches kindergartners the proper way to pick fruit

October 15, 2006|By Sarah O'Brien | Sarah O'Brien,Special to The Sun

Kindergartners learn `A' is for apple With aisles of green grass stretching into the distance and apple trees creating leafy walls between the endless paths, delighted cries of accomplishment resounded from the orchard: "I got it!" and, "I did it!"

There also was the occasional "oops!" when an apple fell to the ground.

The sounds came from pint-size pickers who had received their first lesson in how to properly harvest an apple.

The experience has almost become a rite of passage for Carroll County kindergartners, who are invited free every fall to Baugher's Orchard and Farm in Westminster.

Marjorie Baugher, 65, oversees the family's 600-acre enterprise with her husband, Allan, 71. She estimates that this fall, nearly 1,600 kindergartners from most of the county's 22 public elementary schools and a handful of private schools will have visited the orchard.

The field trip to the orchard has grown in popularity since the early 1970s, when a class from the now-closed Uniontown Elementary visited.

"They just walked the orchards, didn't take a wagon ride, didn't get to do all the stuff they do now," Marjorie Baugher said.

These days, a typical hour-and-a-half visit includes a wagon ride to and from the orchard, tours of the Baughers' property, a two-story walk-in cold-storage area that's kept 33 degrees year-round and a bakery with the inviting scent of sticky buns and other baked goods.

Last Monday morning, a busload of 41 kindergartners -- along with 21 parents, two teachers and two assistants -- from Runnymede Elementary School in Westminster arrived for their first field trip of the year.

"They've been excited for about three weeks," said Amy Glessner, one of the two Runnymede kindergarten teachers.

"We had to have a countdown for them," she said.

After Marjorie Baugher gave the introduction, children and adults climbed onto a two-part wagon -- the front divided into large, colorful apple crates; the back a standard wagon -- and settled in for the ride to the orchard.

While inviting so many youngsters every fall creates a lot of hands-on work for the Baughers, they benefit by creating potential new customers.

"It's the best kind of advertising. You can't beat it," Marjorie Baugher said. "But we like to see the kids, too."

Allan Baugher, sporting a straw hat, appears to relish his dual role as captain and tour guide at the helm of the 1948 tractor pulling the wagon.

For all of his kindergarten guests, he provides a colorful commentary during the leisurely 10-minute ride to the orchard.

He draws attention to sites along the way, starting with an open-air warehouse storing huge bins, each of which holds 20 bushels of apples, 200 cantaloupes or pumpkins, or "12 children with their heads sticking out of the top."

He points out the cherry trees, the peach trees, the strawberry fields and the petting zoo. The Runnymede group got to see a billy goat on a bridge by a pond, which Allan Baugher said was "waiting for the old troll."

He even plays a soulful rendition of "Old McDonald Had a Farm" on his harmonica.

Elizabeth Morris, the second Runnymede kindergarten teacher, said class preparation for the trip included reading about apples and making predictions about what the pupils would see. She said the next school day would feature a follow-up lesson.

Isabela Garcia, 5, one of Morris' pupils, shared her own private predictions after picking her apples.

"I thought the apples were going to be red," she said.

It turned out she was right -- the kids got to pick Ida Reds. But, the orchard also boasts green Granny Smith and yellow Golden Delicious apples, among other varieties.

Before setting them loose among the trees, Baugher offers the youngsters a lesson in horticulture, explaining the importance of pollination and the role of branches in trees' growth. He also provides a brief spelling lesson ("Bud is spelled B-U-D").

The feature of his lecture is his demonstration of how to correctly harvest an apple: bend it up and tug gently so that the branch is left on the tree.

And then, very carefully, place the apple in a crate.

Some of the orchard's apples end up in the Baughers' market in various forms including pies and cider; others are packed and trucked to other retailers.

Roughly 30 employees work in the orchard, another 15 or so work in the packinghouse and 15 on the farm. The Baughers five adult children also help at the farm.

The Runnymede visitors saw various workers in action. Some were culling rotten apples from the keepers; the bakery was in full swing, and two workers were running the cider press.

Lily Everly, 5, one of Glessner's pupils, said picking the apples was her favorite part of the trip, followed by watching the cider press at work.

Most importantly, though, she thinks she's definitely an expert apple picker now.

While the Baughers are close to finishing their six-week season of kindergarten field trips -- the last group is scheduled to visit Thursday -- the orchard, market and other attractions remain open to the public until Christmas Eve.

The tour ended for the Runnymede group with a snack of cider, a pumpkin-colored sugar cookie and, of course, an apple.

Isabela said she liked the apple better than the cookie. She even lingered at the table, savoring every bite, as her classmates began to head toward their bus.

"Look what I found!" Isabela exclaimed as she stood up, turning her apple for viewing.

She had munched down to the core, revealing the seeds -- identical to the ones that grew into the trees that the kindergartners get to view every year.

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