FULTONVILLE — From a perfect perch, Aubrey Kuhn had the pick of the crop.
Boosted up on the shoulders of her soon-to-be stepfather, John Schiavo, the 5-year-old Kuhn reached into the top branches of an apple tree at Bellinger’s Orchard early Monday afternoon. With a mighty tug, she freed the fruit from the tree.
As the branches snapped back, Kuhn tossed the apple down to her family with a giggle, where it quickly joined a couple bushels of its brethren being towed in a wagon.
Kuhn and her family still had to walk across Argersinger Road to the Bellinger’s pumpkin patch to complete their outing, but for the youngest member of the party, apples were definitely the main attraction.
“Apples are healthy,” she said with a mile-wide smile.
Plenty of locals followed the same example as Kuhn and her family Monday, using the Columbus Day holiday as a chance to get outside and enjoy the fruits of fall.
Bellinger’s Orchard has been a pick-your-own-apples destination since the 1960s, sitting on farmland that’s been in the same family for nearly 220 years. Owner Ken Coyne said that business is booming this year, up somewhere in the range of 25 to 30% at an orchard that also features pumpkin picking and a corn maze in addition to acres of apples.
That uptick in business comes even as some of Bellinger’s traditional fall features — including hayrides and a children’s hay maze — were canceled for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While those offerings of the business are gone temporarily, Coyne said apple and pumpkin picking have been a major attraction for people looking to for a safe, socially-distant way to get some fresh air in the fall after spending months stuck at home.
“People are cooped up in the house, they’re [done] being quarantined, and now they’re getting out to the fresh air,” Coyne said. “They’re spreading out and having a good time.”
There were dozens of people roaming the orchards Monday afternoon, taking full advantage of a three-day weekend and some idyllic fall weather.
Cecelia Sanchirico of Sprakers wandered through the trees with her dog, Barley, and her friend Elizabeth DeGroff, of Saratoga Springs, filling up a wagon of their own that will serve as the basis for many fall baked goods to come.
“We have lots of baking to do,” Sanchirico said. “Apple pies, apple crisps.”
“Everything with apples,” DeGroff said.
A trip to the orchard was part of an impromptu reunion for Shirley Manzer and Catherine Sarwar.
The two were college roommates 50 years ago in Ohio, but live more than 1,500 miles apart with Manzer in Palatine Bridge and Sarwar in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Sarwar made the trip to Montgomery County as a way of getting out of the path of Hurricane Delta, and the two have spent the long weekend enjoying an upstate New York fall.
“It’s nice to be outdoors, doing something and being comfortable,” Manzer said. “Neither one of us are particularly comfortable being indoors or in a big group of people, so we’re just trying to be cautious and careful with what we do.
“We went hiking yesterday,” Manzer continued, “and it’s apples today. I think it’s going to rain tomorrow, but Wednesday’s going to be biking.”
Apple orchards are extremely few and far between in Sarwar’s neck of the woods, so the trip to Bellinger’s — where more than 30 different varieties of apple are grown — was a welcome blast to the past from her Ohio roots.
“We only get about three different kinds of apples in Louisiana, and none of them are grown there,” Sarwar said. “This is heaven to me. I grew up in Ohio, picking apples when I was a little kid.”
Other than mask requirements and limiting the number of people inside the main store, it’s apple picking as it’s always been — which just so happens to be a perfect activity for the present climate.
“We try to spread them out,” Coyne said, “and let them have a good time.”
“It definitely still feels good,” Sanchirico said, “to be able to still hang out and be outside.”
Reach Adam Shinder at [email protected] or @Adam_Shinder on Twitter.