14 Aug Country Pleasures Farm and their Organic Willow Oaks Ciders
Country Pleasures Farm and its Organic Willow Oaks Ciders
Eric and Lori Leitzel Rice craft their farmhouse style cider from certified organic American heirloom apples on their 35 acre farm in Middletown, Maryland.
Willow Oaks Cider has won the Governor’s Cup Gold and Silver medals in 2017 and 2018.
Brain-damaging chlorpyrifos is routinely applied to many of our favorite fruits–and strawberries and apples top the list of the most contaminated fruits.
Thankfully, consumer demand is fueling a national movement to organic orchards. In Maryland, this movement is led by Eric and Lori Rice of Country Pleasures Farm of Middletown, in Frederick County. Their organic orchard was established thirty years ago and was the first certified organic orchard in the east.
Eric planted the first apples on the sloping cornfields of Country Pleasures Farm, choosing American heirloom varieties like Black Twig, Albemarle Pippin, Grimes Golden, Roxbury Russett, Northern Spy/Criterion—apples our grandparents knew and loved, with deep roots in our colonial history. What these apples may lack in picture-perfect appearance, they more than make up for in their rich flavors and delicious crunch—there is no comparison to the supermarket varieties that are cultivated for mass production, long-distance shipping, and bathed in chemical insecticides and fungicides.
The Rice’s heirloom trees have won acclaim for their popular line of small batch Willow Oaks Ciders. In 2017 and 2018, several of their vintages took Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals in the Governor’s Cup competition for Maryland wines. “Gloaming” apple/black currant cider won “Best in Class in 2018. Organic pears, blueberries, black currants, and other fruits make tasty additions to Willow Oaks’ unique handcrafted, barrel fermented ciders.
Breaking ground with the first spindly roots into the soil was no easy task. There were no certified organic farms in Maryland, nor any certified orchards in the Mid-Atlantic when Eric began. Eric planted the orchard, grew the farm to 1,800 trees, and helped grow the Maryland organic program, collaborating on the state regulations and helping found MOFFA, Maryland Organic Food & Farming Association.
Conventional orchardists say it’s impossible to grow tree fruit without chlorpyrifos, but forward thinkers like Eric Rice are using forgotten “old time” practices and the rising industry of safer bio-rational products to meet the insect needs in food production, without poisoning our food, air, and water. Country Pleasures Farm is a model for effective alternative practices. As a test orchard for Surround, a non-toxic kaolin clay alternative, the Rice’s proved its effectiveness, with side benefits of increasing fruit yield size by enhancing photosynthesis. Surround has become a market leader, thanks to innovators like the Rices and thousands of organic growers like them, who are demonstrating that the rapidly growing industry of safer bio-rational pesticides are effective and cost-effective, for clean food production.
In addition to apples, Country Pleasures Farm also grows certified organic figs, pears (Asian and European), blueberries, blackberries, currants, gooseberries, strawberries, raspberries, black raspberries, plus, peaches, cherries apricots, grapes and kiwi, and sell their pastured, grass-fed black angus beef. This spring, plan to visit their beautiful restored barn that serves as a tasting room, farm stand, art gallery and sometimes concert venue. Contact the Rices and Country Pleasures Farm through their website, www.willowoakscraftcider.com.