How About Them Apples?

10/6/2012 7:00 AM
By Shannon Sollinger Virginia Correspondent

Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum Celebrates Apples and Those Who Grew Them

STERLING, Va. — More than 600 visitors from as far away as Arlington and Washington, D.C., put the Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum in Sterling on their maps Sept. 28 and 29 and took in the sights, sounds, activities and tastes of the ninth annual Apple Festival.

The first festival, back in 2004, was “to celebrate the opening of our apple exhibit on Hill High Orchard,” said museum co-director Katie Eichler Jones. “We put up an exhibit to highlight the orchard. It’s such a long-standing tradition in Loudoun County — a lot of people knew of it but didn’t know the story behind it.”

And for the ninth year in a row, Hill High’s long-time manager, Ken Lowery, made the festival happen. Lowery managed Hill High, in Round Hill in the western part of the county, from 1956 until 1991 when it was sold for development. A nearby housing development is dubbed The Orchard.

The trick to organizing the festival, including numerous hands-on activities for children and partnered this year with a craft fair, is simple hard work, Lowery said — and knowing people who will donate things and volunteers willing to help.

Lowery just wants everyone to eat more apples, and he wants, he said, to promote the “value of heirloom apples. Some of these were grown back in Thomas Jefferson’s day and are used today to develop new apples. Some of the new ones you see in supermarkets today may have been developed from ones Thomas Jefferson grew.”

Just behind the table of vintage and antique apple peelers, inside the museum building, was an exhibit of about 125 heirloom varieties of apples and modern apples that have been developed from them.

The museum staff and volunteers have developed the Heritage Farm Museum Apple Encyclopedia with information about more than 140 varieties of heirloom apples.

One of the stars is the Albemarle Pippin, “known to be the best of all Virginia heirloom apples,” according to

First developed in the early 1700s, it was grown in great quantities at Jefferson’s Monticello and spread throughout Virginia by one of George Washington’s officers during the war against the French in 1775.

“It was so good that it was the only food commodity exempt from crown import tax,” the website states, allegedly because it was a great favorite of Queen Victoria.

Lowery’s personal favorite is the Golden Delicious, “the best all around apple for eating, cooking and it makes a good pie.”

Inside the museum the festival offered volunteer-staffed demonstrations of apple baggers and apple peelers, as well as taste-tests of heirloom varieties.

Glenna Martinez, a Heritage Farm Museum instructor, took over the cabin and gathered crowds of children for reading sessions — all about apples.

And outside, visitors found face painting, throwing, cut-out farm animal painting, a petting zoo and a demonstration of the antique cider press.

Museum board member Richard Fisk, a former dairyman whose father-in-law owned William’s Dairy — one of only three dairies remaining in the county until it shipped its Holsteins to Florida a little over a decade ago — welcomed more than 150 visitors to the new Work Horse Museum.

“All this horse-drawn equipment was used here in Loudoun County,” Fisk said. “It’s history. Very good history.”

Farm instructor Jennifer Lane first talked her audience through the biology of the apple and its origins in the Tien Shan mountains of central Asia. After about 8,000 B.C., it was spread by humans and birds to the Middle East, Europe and, eventually, North America, she said. Lane also discussed cultivation, hybridization, grafting, legends and just plain cooking.

Reston resident Ben Custer learned about the Heritage Farm Museum from Eichler Jones several weeks ago and has been a regular with his 2-year-old son, William, ever since. “He loved it,” Custer said.

The Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum is home to more than 650 implements and artifacts from the county’s rich agricultural history and houses a collection of more than 8,000 books, ledgers, diaries, advertisements and primary research material.

For more information, visit or the museum’s Facebook page.

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