A visit to Boyer’s Orchard and Cider Mill is just what the doctor ordered
by Leon J. Thompson
Genny and Dave Boyer have operated Boyer’s Orchard and Cider Mill in Monkton for almost 40 years. The orchard contains 2,000 fruit trees at two locations, and features a retail store, a 17-acre produce garden, and 780 maple sugar taps.
Dave Boyer reaches into the wooden display box for a fruit turnover. Ultimately, he picks cherry.
“Cherry’s good,” he says. “This is my breakfast, and we’re gonna split it. Now, you drive.”
Dave often thrusts visitors into the driver’s seat of his John Deere Gator at Boyer’s Orchard and Cider Mill, which he has owned and operated for nearly 40 years in Monkton, with his wife, Genny.
“My wife paid $7,000 for this thing, and I didn’t even want it,” Dave says, while climbing into the passenger seat of the green and yellow cross between an all-terrain vehicle and a moon buggy. “I like it now, though,” he says. He smiles.
Perhaps Dave has embraced the Gator because the Boyers’ tiny fleet of them has allowed Dave — a friendly, frank, and good-humored man — to give Boyer’s Orchard customers an in-the-fields peek at the hard, diligent work that goes with growing and producing seasonal products for public consumption.
“I take a customer, put ’em in the driver’s seat, and head to a field, like we’re doing now,” he says, as the Gator slowly rolls through a field of sweet corn. Dave picks acceptable ears and tosses them into the back of the Gator. “To me, this is the best way to appreciate what you buy here — see what goes into it.”
Dave chuckles at the mention that this is a great PR move. “Well, that’s my job, here: PR and BS,” he jokes. “But we’re not in this for the money. Stop the Gator.” He points to a row of carrots. “I could buy those carrots for half of what it costs to raise them,” he says, “but that’s not why we do this, and it never was. We do this for other people to enjoy.”
Boyer’s Orchard contains 2,000 apple, pear, and plum trees at two Monkton locations: the original, 12-acre orchard at 79 Rotax Road and the 40-acre site on Monkton Road, which also houses the retail store, a 17-acre produce garden, and 780 maple sugar taps.
Dave and Genny, both 70, plant the garden themselves every year in 40-foot rows of carrots, beets, sweet corn, and pumpkins, to start. They plant everything to harvest after Sept. 1, and they’re open till mid-November.
Second only to apples, pumpkins are the Boyers’ top seller. Genny estimates they grow and sell an average of 1,500 bushels of apples each season — “but that’s just a wild guess,” she says. “It’s pick-your-own, so it can be hard to tell year to year.”
In 2005, using lumber from their own land and drawing on experience with building homes, Dave and Genny built the wood-framed retail store, with a wraparound porch and brick walkway. What’s inside? Take a whiff. Apples. Pumpkins. Pies. Syrup. Honey. Jams. Everything at Boyer’s Orchard is grown, made, and sold in Monkton. No wholesale distribution. No website. No Facebook page.
Visitors of all ages, from all areas of Vermont and the rest of the United States, who visit on any given fall Saturday are lucky enough to witness hard-pressed apple cider made with a wooden apple elevator and metal washing tub — bootlegger-era equipment the Boyers acquired from a Chittenden County businessman.
Then there are those warm, soft, sugar-and-spice–coated cider doughnuts, fried in plain view behind the cash registers.
Tourist-attracting scenes like these at Boyer’s are part of what have made Vermont’s orchard industry strong for decades. Even as growers adjust to economic and climatic fluctuations, the state’s marketing of its apples has remained big.
“Apple picking is one of the leading activities in our thriving agritourism industry,” says Megan Smith, Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing (VDTM) commissioner. “It’s the perfect way to enjoy Vermont’s gorgeous autumn landscape.”
Eight years ago, the VDTM honored the tradition by launching Apples to iPods, a contest in which visitors to more than 20 Vermont orchards search for wooden apples to win an iPod. Boyer’s participated for four years.
“It’s been incredibly successful at encouraging orchard visits,” Smith says. “And who doesn’t like apples? There’s a reason it’s our state fruit, and our state pie.”
In recent years, Vermont dairy farmers have turned to Mexican employees, citing a lack of qualified, willing help in the local agricultural workforce. Same for Vermont’s orchards, which employ Jamaican workers from H2A, a federal program that lets U.S. business owners hire foreign nationals when they struggle to find American help. Two of the Boyers’ nine employees — Omar Bright and Joseph Walker — are Jamaican.
“I like this program,” Genny says from the store bench. “These guys are part of our family. They are wonderful. They anticipate what needs to be done.”
Then she points to the wooden crates that line the porch, each one filled with produce and marked with price signs. “We made those,” she says. “Then Dave bent a piece of metal to look like an apple and started branding the boxes. I think that’s going to become our logo.”
Dave and Genny grew up in Williston — he on a farm, she, not. They remember their first date well. As Dave tells it, in 1959, Genny and her sisters showed him their tree cabin; on their second date, he showed her his. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in October.
They have three grown children. Cricket lives in Oregon with her daughter, Eliza. Their daughter Kathy, who owns a landscaping business, and her husband, Rob Hunter, live on property that overlooks the Monkton Road orchard and gardens, as do the Boyers’ son, Mark, and his 15-year-old son, Christopher.
Mark oversees maple syrup production and is about to seek federal licensing to manufacture hard cider and wine from the grapes that have spent the last few years maturing in a small vineyard.
“Christopher is starting to learn to raise apples on a small patch of land here, too,” Dave says, proudly.
After graduating from high school, Genny worked primarily in retail. Dave worked for a phone company and then at IBM in Essex Junction, before he turned to apples. “Dave has a great analytical and mechanical mind,” Genny says.
The Boyers entered the orchard industry blind. They bought the Rotax Road property in 1975 and the property on Monkton Road, where they also live, about a decade later, when expanding the original orchard was necessary, Genny says.
Early on, the Boyers invested time in honing some necessary skills. Dave focused on growing; Genny focused on business. They still fill those roles today.
“It’s been great,” Genny says. “You don’t make a lot of money doing this. It’s a lifestyle. You either enjoy it or you’re not in it.”
All “PR and BS” jokes aside, Dave admits that he would not be on this Gator, on this breezy, warm, October Saturday, if he did not enjoy it. Then, as the Gator turns a corner into a grove of McIntoshes, it encounters a family of four from Fayston: Dan Fuller and Stacy Berno, and their children, Levi and Geneva Wilson, ages 6 and 2.
Fuller met the Boyers in 2013 when they invited him to pick plums for a local food bank. “I wanted to come back this year and bring everyone, because it’s just a great place,” Fuller says, as the children pick apples and put them into their wooden wagon — nibbling in between, of course. “And we all needed to have the cider doughnuts. They’re really good.”
“Really, really good!” Berno adds.
Dave shows Fuller, Berno, and their crew the corn and carrots he picked just minutes earlier. “Try some,” Dave says, giving them each a fresh ear to shuck and eat. “It’s sweet.”
The children thank Dave. “Do you know who that guy is?” Fuller asks, pointing to him. “This guy owns this whoooooole place.”
“No, no, no, no,” Dave says gently, politely. “I’m just taking care of it for you.”
The business’s continuing growth is evident from the new sugarhouse being constructed along the long dirt driveway leading to the Monkton Road store.
Asked about retirement, Genny peers down at her hands folded on her red apron. Then she mentions her father: He retired at 70 and died the following year.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to retire,” she says. “As long as you can go out there and are still able to do things, your mind stays open. You stay healthy.”
She explains that Dave had a cholesterol-related triple bypass when he was 40. He has been healthy since then. They go to Florida every winter, to relax.
“But I don’t see Dave retiring,” Genny says. She laughs. “Maybe stepping back a little, but not retiring.” •