GROTON -- There were no sweaters, very little plaid and, as far as a reporter could tell, no pumpkin spice lattes in hand, but regardless, state officials officially kicked off apple season on a crisp Monday morning at Groton's Autumn Hills Farm.
Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner John Lebeaux and state Sen. Eileen Donoghue, who represents the area, took a walking tour of the orchard and picked apples before reading a proclamation encouraging residents to take advantage of the season.
"Apple-growing is really part of the fabric of New England and Massachusetts, and the essence of it -- we have that right here today," Lebeaux said in his remarks on a scenic hilltop dotted with apple trees. "In spite of the challenges that apple-growers have every year, once again, a good crop is coming into market."
Autumn Hills was the first of five orchards Lebeaux visited Monday, and other state officials went to different farms as well. Donoghue, who only planned to stop at Autumn Hills, joked that Lebeaux "did the best one first."
"You have a beautiful place here at Autumn Hills, and it's a treat to come out here and see what you and your staff are doing," Lebeaux said.
Ann Harris, owner of the orchard, said her peak season typically runs from Sept. 15 to late October, though she and Lebeaux acknowledged that the crops were ready earlier than usual this year.
Autumn Hills offers a wide range of apples, from more traditional Macintosh and Cortland versions to "antique and hard-to-find varieties" such as Cox's Orange Pippin, Harris said. The orchard sells fruit at its farmstand and at several farmers' markets, and guests can also pick their own apples right off of the trees.
"Once the weather changes like it did this morning and you get that crisp air, then people start thinking about apples," Harris said.
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