Local Farm Highlight by Cassidy Williams and Jenna Keany
Watch our video from Keany’s recent farm trip to Crown Orchards: https://youtu.be/lmrAE99Bg9s
About the Chiles Family & Crown Orchards
Crown Orchards spans over 1,000 mountaintop acres in Virginia with beautiful panoramic views of Charlottesville. They have been one of Central Virginia’s most prolific fruit growers for four generations, starting in 1912 by the Chiles Family. Crown Orchards has had great success in exporting much of their harvest, including sending Albemarle Pippins to the Queen of England when they started (hence the name); she loved them so much, they were the only agricultural product exported from the US that did not have a tariff. They now boast seven major orchards within a 15-mile radius with acres of peaches, nectarines, and apples.
They say an apple a day, keeps the doctor away, but two apples a day keeps Henry Chiles, 83, still running the entire operation with the help of eight other Chiles family members. His son, Huff, runs the orchard, while his daughter, Cynthia, manages the retail and marketing, and his daughter Sarah, handles their food safety programs. Henry can often be seen checking out the orchard in the comfort of his Jeep, or saying hello to his many helpful employees. His favorite aspect of being a farmer is, “the growing part because you can see the work you put in and figure out what to do better next time.” Simply put, Henry has perfected his process.
Operations & Sustainable Practices
The Chiles Family harvests over a dozen different varieties of apples in their orchards. In fact, elevation helps the growth of the apples, sitting at approximately 1,100 feet above sea-level. Due to the high humidity in Virginia, it is better to grow apples at higher elevations that will provide cooler nights and less pests. Henry is happy with 1,100 feet, although he says 2,000 feet is ideal.
The main challenge Crown Orchards face is the weather, especially with this particular season being so rainy. If you notice small brown divots in your apple, that actually is caused by hail! Trees are
pruned about two times per year and root stocks are used to graft their many varieties of apples, while keeping the trees, including sunlight, pests, height, yields, and fruit quality. As it takes up to five years for an apple tree to bear fruit, Henry and Huff are constantly planting new trees. Crown Orchards use a reduced pesticide program, where they monitor the fruit constantly and only spray if there’s a problem. Fire blight is a common, but deadly, bacteria that kills the plant itself, and has been affecting their yields since they started in 1912. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease and the only option is to remove the tree itself.
Although Henry has been growing his apples his entire life, he is constantly looking for new methods and more advanced technology, such as using retention ponds on top of his orchards to irrigate via gravity. Recently, the farm has installed wind turbines, used to push warmer air into the orchards during early spring; cool air tends to get trapped among the apple trees, and the wind turbines prevent any unwanted frost that might cripple the blooming flowers.
The Chiles Family, and specifically Henry Chiles, is very excited for their recent sustainable purchase to be started—solar panels. Sarah Chiles told us that her father has been researching different solar companies for over 10 years, and is incredibly enthusiastic about becoming self-sufficient. After purchasing a plot of land situated across from their packing house, the field of solar panels will produce enough power to supply the entire packing house, while their other solar panels will power their retail store, and their multiple cider and wine tasting rooms.
On-site Packing House
Crown Orchards’ success can be attributed not only to the family’s incredible hard work and business intellect, but to their state-of-the-art packing facility, streamlining the process from farm-to-fork. As food safety is of the utmost importance in today’s agricultural world, they have developed an advanced system with barcode labeling technology that tracks the fruit from plot to harvester to sorter, and through delivery. At the moment, their staff sorts through most apples by hand, but they have recently purchased the latest technology that will scan each apple for imperfections, and determine whether the apple is too damaged or soft for retail. Sarah Chiles, Director of Food Safety, is very enthusiastic about the new equipment as it was developed in The Netherlands and is only found in a few locations in the US (mainly Washington State). Not to fret, the apples that are deemed “unfit” for retail will not be wasted, but will be used to make cider, jam/preserves, and butter. Henry even supplies apples for Bold Rock hard cider; make sure to try some at the on-site cider tasting room at Carter Mountain!
Visiting Carter Mountain
If you visit the orchards at Carter Mountain, you’ll be greeted by the heavenly smell of freshly fried apple cider donuts and captivated by the beautiful views of Charlottesville. There’s fun for the entire family at Carter Mountain Orchards; wheelbarrows can be borrowed for pumpkin and apple picking, a fully-stocked market with apples, apple products, and Virginia souvenirs is open year-round, and a café is situated overlooking the orchards, serving homemade barbecue. Not to mention, you can enjoy a flight of Bold Rock cider while looking out across the valley, or even taste wine made from their vineyard. During the summer months, they offer sunset viewings and live music. This gorgeous spot has hosted countless engagements, weddings, and parties. If you’re in the Charlottesville area, this is something to add to your calendar, if you’re not, then this is well worth the drive!
Read more about the Chiles Family and the Orchards on their website: https://chilesfamilyorchards.com/ or follow them on Social Media!