By Kathy Dixon
While Kellogg’s(R) Froot Loops (RP)’ mascot, Toucan Sam, encouraged cereal eaters to follow their noses, the Nelson County Department of Economic Development and Tourism is encouraging people to follow a trail of farmers growing more than a dozen varieties of fruit.
The Blue Ridge Fruit Loop Trail includes 11 orchards in Nelson and Amherst Counties that offer a variety of apples, blue and black berries, peaches, pears, nectarines, strawberries, wine, mead and more. visitors may also find plum-like damson fruits and pluots, a cross between apricots and plums, and even Asian pears.
“It only took 13 years to get this started, ” said Maureen Kelley, director of the Nelson County Department of Economic Development, which organized the trail of orchards. She said that farmland in production in Nelson County has actually increased over the past 10 years even when other localities have lost farmland. “We’re always trying to figure out how to support our agri-artisans.”
FRUIT ADDED TO LIST OF VA. TRAILS
Tommy Bruguiere, co-owner of Dickie Brothers Orchard on the fruit loop trail, said “the trail gives us a marketing tool to increase our retail dollars.”
He and his brother, John, grow 100 acres of apples, peaches, plums and damsons that they sell wholesale and in their retail store. Enticing people to the area as part of a specialty trail is helping to increase the number of visitors who come out to pick their own fruits or buy pre-picked produce.
“The message of the trail is that there is fruit from the end of May all the way into November, not just in October,” Kelley said. All of the farms are within a 50-mile radius. and people who visit all 11 farms can enter a drawing for a weekend get-away.
Not too far from Dickie Brothers is Drumheller’s Orchard, which dates back to 1937 when E.O. and Eva Drumheller bought the 446-acre abandoned orchard and replanted peaches and apples. Today, Doris Drumheller owns the orchard, with her son, Kevin’ he and his daughter, Morgan Drumheller-Johnston, run the operation. When Kelley contacted them about joining the fruit loop trail, “we were up for it,” said Drumheller-Johnston. “The breweries and wineries have trails, so why not fruit growers?”
ORCHARDS WORK TOGETHER
Drumheller-Johnston said the fruit trail has been a good way for the county’s orchards to collaborate. “If someone’s looking for damsons and we don’t have them, we’ll tell them which (fruit loop) farm does. It’s beneficial for everybody to work together.”
Kimberly Pugh, co-owner of Hill Top Berry Farm and Winery, said she was previously worried about competing wineries but has found that more tourists come to the area because there are so many options.
Hill Top was started as a pick-your-own berry farm by Pugh’s parents, but in 1998 Pugh and her husband, Gregory, started the winery. They grow 7 acres of blackberries and 4 acres of blueberries that they use in their fruit wines.
“There are adults who come to taste wine who say their parents used to come here to pick the berries. We stay busy,” she said, thanks in part to the fruit loop trail.