By Janelle Pottinger and Pamela Wong
The 30th Annual Long Island Apple festival at Sherwood-Jayne Farm brought roughly 2,200 people to East Setauket on September 29 to celebrate the roots of the apple.
The festival had barber shop quartets, a new and improved apple pie eating contest and healthier food options from the food vendors. Despite these new improvements since last year’s festival, the number of attendees were less than previous years which had approximately 3,000 people.
“Apples don’t have the impact [they] once had years ago,” Bryan Butler, Agricultural Science Agent at The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Maryland, said. “They are not native, they were brought over from other parts of the world. They started planting them in the east then they moved to Mid-Atlantic… Today it is not as big of an industry in the Northeast — it’s more of a local market. For them to be grown, apples require a specific terrain and infrastructure in place to support the industry.”
New York is the second-largest apple producing state in the country according to Apples From New York. The state averages 29.5 million bushels of production annually.
Suffolk County ranked towards the bottom of the list for numbers of acres in farmland, but was ranked first in market value for the goods produced, according to a study released by the Long Island Farm Bureau.
“Up until September, it’s been very good,” Bob Benner and his wife Jean Benner of Benner’s Farm, the creators of the event 30 years ago, said. They provided apples to the event for apple picking. “We’ve had quite a lot of rain… But September has had just about 0.4 percent of rain. It’s been very dry on Long Island. But I don’t think that the lack of water in this September has been good for apples around here. It’s better to have it now than if it were very wet in the spring and summer.”
The festival provides a historical experience with apple picking, hayrides, food vendors, arts and crafts, metal forgery display, live music, apple pie contest and other activities.
At these festivals, Benner gets to share his knowledge about farming. He has classes that visit his small 15-acre farm in East Setauket and goes into schools to teach classes.
“The [apple] industry is not large,” Butler mentioned. “It doesn’t cover a large amount of acres.”
The Benner’s started this festival with an organization called Homestead Arts as a homestead festival to teach the history of farming. By the second year, he collaborated with the Three Village Historic Society and made a joint festival celebrating apples, which made the festival what it is today. Now the festival is run by Benner’s farm, Homestead Arts and Preservation Long Island.
“Apples were one of the most important fruits for people who came here and settled,” Benner said. “The reason for that is you can store apples in a root cellar… It’s the only fruit that will last that way. Apples were really important to [turn of the century farmers] because that way they could have [sic] fruit in the winter.”
The turnout of the attendees caused worry for the future of the festival.
“I feel that this year not enough people knew about the festival because the promotion this year was difficult due to the retirement of our publicist,” Jean Benner, co-owner of Benner’s Farm, said.
Social media is the new medium for reaching a wider and more diverse audience, she said. Benner also added that she is considering asking the local high school key club to help them spread their mission through multiple social media platforms.
“My mom told me I used to go as a kid,” Sofia Beaton, a junior at Ward Melville High School, said. “Everyone from all communities like to come here and… it’s very family friendly.” She returned to the festival to volunteer again with her school’s Key Club.
“I didn’t expect it to be so old-fashioned and that’s what I like about this festival,” Giovanna Abbate, who brought her five children to the festival, said. Abate heard about the event on Channel 12 News. “We were interested in watching the metal forging part.”
The festival provided 1700’s colonial era authentic cooking on an open fire.
“We’re featuring several dishes [sic] as they come off the fire,” Diane Schwindt, historic cook from The Ketcham Inn, said. “We’re serving the public small little samples to give them a taste of hearth cooking and the history behind each dish.”
The Ketcham Inn strives to preserve the history and save it, especially at historical education events such as the apple fest.
Schwindt has been doing historical cooking for 15 years and she studied with Dr. Alice Ross, co-founder of Culinary Historians of NY.
“If there’s no history, there’s no tomorrow,” Schwindt added. “If there’s no tomorrow, there’s no future, really, if you think about it.”