For families all over York Durham Headwaters, fall is apple picking time. Those still-warm, early autumn days carry a hint of cool on the breeze, making it the perfect weather to enjoy a sunny day with the rich scent of ripe apples swirling around you. A day spent picking apples is a day spent making memories—which is awesome, since memory-making is what we at YDH are all about.
If you have never been apple picking before, you may not know what to expect when you get to the farm. Well, we’re here to tell you that there is so much more to do than just pick apples and leave. Most, if not all, of our pick-your-own apple orchards here in YDH have additional activities and experiences the whole family can enjoy. Here are some great additional activities that our pick-your-own farms typically offer.
A note about COVID-19: please be prepared for some of these activities to be scaled back to ensure safety and physical distancing.
If you’ve never been to a farmyard playground before, then you are in for a treat. These are no ordinary, pre-fabricated playgrounds that you’ll find in every school yard and every neighbourhood park. These playgrounds are often the creative genius of the farmers themselves. Corn mazes, hay jumps, decommissioned tractors that have been made kid-friendly for climbing—there are so many options, and each is as unique as the apple orchard itself.
Archibald Orchards and Winery in Bowmanville is a local favourite for the kids. It incorporates such unique ideas from the brain of farmer Fred Archibald like a 12-foot-tall rocket ship made out of a recycled wine tank and a “noodle house,” filled with pool noodles that junior apple pickers can walk through. And this will make you parents happy: there is no extra charge to enjoy Archibald’s kiddie land. “We don’t charge for any of these things,” Farmer Fred says. “We didn’t want to try and make that the function, we just wanted to offer a few simple things that would bring joy to the kids.”
With COVID-19 safety protocols currently in place, please note that the playground at Archibald’s is not currently operating to allow for social distancing. But be ready when things open back up—your kids will have a blast!
Wagons and apple orchards—what is one without the other? Getting to drive wagon-pulling tractors is one of the perks of being a farmer, and visiting a pick-your-own apple farm often means you get a good, old-fashioned wagon ride as part of the experience. “We have hayrides for all the kids to go and see the rest of the farm,” says Connor Miller from Applewood Farm in Stouffville. “When it comes to the later varieties [of apples] like honeycrisp, ambrosia and empire, we take visitors on a ride back to where they are picked—we have over thirty acres of apples back there, so it’s quite spread out. We drive people around and let them view the entire farm, where they can also see our corn maze, sunflowers and pumpkins.”
He adds, “From the families I’ve spoken to, it’s a chance to get out and enjoy the outdoors. You come in, you go for a wagon ride, and the kids love to see the tractor. I’ve never met a three-year-old or five-year-old that doesn’t want to drive it or see it.”
Apple picking is hungry work. When you’ve filled your bags and sated your desire for orchard ambience, it’s time to nosh on some farm-fresh treats. Sometimes it’s pastries and other baked goods, and sometimes it’s hot food like French fries and hot dogs. As with the playgrounds, each farm is different, but all the nibbles and bites are delicious.
“We have fresh-picked corn, homemade butter tarts, honey, pumpkins, gourds, squash and other fall décor items,” says Melissa Downey of Downey’s Strawberry and Apple Farm in Caledon. And Fred Archibald says, “Were this a normal year [without covid], things like our apple dumplings and apple fritters are offered in our little food court area. Specialty fall-related things usually end up on the menu, and we’ve done French fries before, too. But apple treats of one sort or another are something unique that people can’t find in a donut shop or in a restaurant. That is what we aim for.”
Archibald’s also has a fairly sizeable farm market, where lots of unique gift items and preserve-type goods can be purchased. Save your walking feet—when you’re done in the orchard, you’re going to want a mile or two left in the legs to browse the market!
Every now and then, you find a gem of an orchard or farm that offers something… a little extra. Hard ciders, fruit wine, craft brewing—autumn is harvest time, after all. A sample of a farm-crafted beverage of the alcoholic variety is always a pleasure. As the name suggests, Archibald Orchards is also a winery. Farmer Fred and his wife Sandy make fruit wine and hard ciders out of their apples, and out of fruit that they source as locally as they can. They even have a tasting bar so that you can sample one of their many fruit wine varieties before committing to making a purchase.
This year, Archibald’s is still doing tastings, although on a modified schedule. “On Saturday and Sunday from 11 until 4 we are doing free wine tasting in our outside tasting bar,” Fred says. “People are given a little tray with their wine on it and everything is in a minimal-touch environment.” A little sip of delicious wine or cider, and a bottle of it to take home to enjoy later? That will make your apple dreams extra sweet.
Apple picking is a wonderful experience that we think everyone must have at least once… and by that we mean it will never be just once since you’ll love it so much, you’ll be coming back year after year. With the creative genius of our farmers and their desire to share their way of life with visitors, your day of orchard fun will be so much more than just apples at our pick-your-own farms all around York Durham Headwaters.
Story by Katherine Ryalen