Historically an agricultural state, much of Virginia's rolling meadows and foothills are still used for farming; according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the state is still one of the country's top producers of apples. Fortunately for regular folks, an increased interest in local food and back-to-the-land grocery sourcing has led to a resurgence of pick-your-own farms in Virginia and its environs. At least one "you-pick" farm exists in every region of the state, with most apple orchards located in central Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley.
Types of Apples
Several varieties of apples familiar to grocery store shoppers are also grown at you-pick orchards. Common apple varieties include Red Delicious, Fuji, Gala and Granny Smith. Some types are not as commercially available, such as the red Stayman apple, discovered in 1866 by a doctor of the same name. Other varieties include Golden Delicious, Jonathan, Winesap and Ginger Gold.
Apple orchards that allow visitors to pick their own apples are located throughout the state. Most of Virginia's apple orchards are in the central part of the state; 10 different orchards are clustered in and around Charlottesville. The Shenandoah River valley is another prime apple-picking destination, with seven orchards. The Blue Ridge highlands towards Virginia's southwest corner has three orchards, and the Northern Virginia, Chesapeake and far southern portions of the state each have one apple orchard where guests can pick fruit.
Most orchards have other seasonal fruit crops for visitors to pick from, including cherries, plums, peaches, melons, berries and vegetables like pumpkins and corn.
Several orchards and apple producers host annual apple and harvest festivals in the fall, just when the crop is at its peak. For example, the Chilhowie Apple Festival runs in late September of each year, and features a beauty pageant, pet show, arts, crafts, live entertainment, parade and demonstrations to teach participants how to make apple butter. Loudoun County's Heritage Farm Museum also hosts an annual Autumn Apple Festival.
Cost and Availability
Some varieties ripen and are ready for harvest as early as July, while varieties like Pink Lady ripen into October. Though many orchards and farms close for the season after the fall harvest, some businesses remain open and sell already-picked apples to visitors who come in November and December.
A number of orchards will also ship apple boxes to mail-order customers when the fruit is ready. As of 2009, a 10-lb. box of apples can cost around $20, depending on the variety and availability. Customers who visit orchards to pick their own apples pay by the pound or by the bushel and prices vary from farm to farm.
Call Before You Go
Not every orchard or fruit farm listed on Virginia tourism informational brochures is open to the public for self-pick activities. Be sure to call ahead to determine whether the farm is open to visitors; this will also give you a chance to check what fruit or apple varieties are ripe and in season.