Bluestone Press

Bluestone Press
 Westwind Orchard’s Accord location is a bit off the beaten trail, but it’s a suitable site for a farm choosing to step away from the path of standard apple cultivation practices. This Certified Naturally Grown You-Pick orchard uses only organic methods for pest and weed control, a system that’s fairly common in dry western states like California, but in the northeast, is a rarity. A drastic increase in pest and disease pressure comes along with our moister climate, which means a trickier journey to a good organic apple.
It takes hard work, a strong big-picture vision, and plenty of determination to grow this way in the Hudson Valley, and owner Fabio Chizzola has all of these qualities. When he and his wife, Laura Ferrara purchased the farm in 2002 as a retreat from the city for themselves and their son, it was primarily because of the property’s 1770s stone house, though they intended to revive the dilapidated orchard to a limited extent. But it didn’t take long until that small agricultural ambition expanded.
The 32-acre farm straddles both sides of the road. There’s a sturdy deer fence around one five-acre parcel, and it protects the newest plantings of trees, rows of berry bushes, and sprawling pumpkins and squash plants. The fence is just one of the many improvements Chizzola has made on the land since taking ownership. “When we came here, it was like a forest, not an orchard,” he said.
His journey to organic farmer was a bit circuitous. A native of Rome, Italy, his parents had a country garden and flocks of poultry they raised for food. As an adult, he worked with computers, then turned to photography, putting himself through night school and working as an assistant until making the leap to working on his own. Fashion is his area of specialty, and he’s photographed for a wide variety of American and European magazines and ad campaigns. Ferrara also works in fashion, as a stylist. She’s an Italian native as well, though her parents immigrated to New York City when she was three. Like Chizzola’s family, they also grew some of their food in a large home garden.
Their shared background in family food cultivation wasn’t quite enough to prepare the pair for the challenges at Westwind. “I didn’t know anything when I bought this place,” Chizzola said. “I was very naïve—I thought I’d find someone to take care of it. If I knew what I know now…”
He quickly hired local pomologist Mike Biltonen to consult. Many of the orchard’s trees were very old, and the first task in salvaging them was pruning healthy specimens and removing the dead and diseased. “There were 700 trees here when we bought this,” he said. “We took down 300.”
Westwind’s first You-Pick season was in 2008. “Mike really got me motivated, and we had an amazing crop the first year,” Chizzola said. Unfortunately, the next crop didn’t follow suit. Like many local small farmers, he considered last year’s growing season “a disaster.” This year, he said looks much better, though dry weather and overly warm nights have created smaller apples reluctant to turn red. But like any farmer, he’s perpetually looking ahead, and last year, with the help of local farmer Randy Long, he planted 200 trees including new disease-resistant varieties such as honey crisp, crimson crisp, and gold rush. “I planted those trees hole by hole,” he said. “It took four weekends. It was an enormous job.”
Though Ferrara loved the way the orchard’s trees reminded her of Italian olive groves, originally, she admitted, she thought buying the farm was a bit of a crazy idea. But she’s since come around a bit. “Whatever Fabio puts his mind to, he accomplishes,” she said. “I’d say he’s a modern Renaissance man. For him, I think this is a conscious decision to do something good for the earth, good for Matteo, good for us. Here, Matteo can see how much work goes into growing an apple or a raspberry. He can see what his dad did to better the community, the environment.”
Future plans include continuing to add new trees, and for next season, looking for a full-time farmer, for hire or in partnership. “Now, I’m serious,” Chizzola said. Plans also include spending as much time as possible on the farm. “A lot of people who do what we do live such crazy lives,” said Ferrara. Added Chizzola, “I love my job. They treat you well, you travel a lot, but then I come back here. This keeps me grounded. My dream for this farm is to serve the community; people who really care about their food. Next year, the new trees will start to produce. I can’t wait. I want to see these apples.”
Westwind Orchard is located at 215 Lower Whitfield Road. Its farmstand and You-Pick berries, apples, and pumpkins will be open from 10-6 on weekends through Columbus Day. The stand offers apples, as well as farm-grown onions, garlic, honey from the orchard’s bees, berries, gourds, and butternut squash.
For more information about the farm (and gorgeous photos of it), see www.westwindorchard.com.
Text by Susan Krawitz, photos by Fabia Wargin
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215 Lower Whitfield Road | Accord | NY | 12404
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