It’s hard to believe, here at the hot end of a long August, but cooler nights are coming to the mountains.
Cooler nights are good news for apples. Lower temperatures will give color to the skin and will actually shape the curves of that famous North Georgia fruit.
Cool breezes will also draw Atlanta folks up to those hills to partake in a secondary crop: agritourism.
While North Georgia might have a hard time competing with Washington state and Michigan in the wholesale apple market, farmers in our state will welcome thousands of city dwellers heading north for wagon rides and you-pick adventures, all of which create a crucial revenue stream.
“It’s changed the way we do business,” said David Lillard, orchard manager at Mercier Orchards, in Blue Ridge. “We no longer have to plant 300 acres and wholesale 300 acres to make the same living that we make now.”
Mercier will entertain about 750,000 visitors during the apple season, from August through October; that’s Mercier’s share of an industry that draws a few million tourists north every fall.
They come to enjoy apples right off the trees, but also to drink cider, eat doughnuts and fried pies, listen to music, ride on wagons pulled by tractors and enjoy all things related to the Malus domestica.
By the way, due to storms, hail and poorly-timed cold snaps, last year’s crop was mediocre. This year’s crop is gangbusters. “It is going to be a tremendous season,” said Lillard.
There are plenty of places to enjoy that delight that grows on trees. Here are a few.
Ginger Gold, Gala and Honeycrisp will be ripening at the end of August at Jaemor Farms. Visitors can come to two market locations in Alto and Commerce.
7 a.m-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 1-6 p.m. Sunday. 5340 Cornelia Highway (Ga. 365 at the 35-mile marker), Alto. 770-869-3999. Also 40081 U.S. 441, Commerce. 706-335-0999, jaemorfarms.com.
In addition to apples, you can find blackberries, blueberries, hard cider and fried pies at this Blue Ridge attraction. (Mercier sold a million pies last year.) Mercier also hosts weddings, school groups, pony rides and a music festival.
7 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday-Saturday. 8660 Blue Ridge Drive, Blue Ridge. 706-632-3411 (For U-Pick: 800-361-7731), mercier-orchards.com.
B.J. Reece Orchards
Pick-your-own-apple season at B.J. Reese Orchards begins on Aug. 24. The Ellijay farm also offers plenty of entertainment, including pig races, cow milking and other family fun. On the shelves at B.J. Reece, you can find (besides apples) peanut brittle, sorghum, salsa, chow chow and many other delectables.
9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday-Saturday. 9131 Ga. 52 East, Ellijay. 706-276-3048, reeceorchards.com
Four generations of the Futch family have been raising apples at this Ellijay farm since 1947. Jonagold, Red Delicious and Golden Delicious will be ready for the picking Labor Day weekend.
9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday-Saturday. 5505 Ga. 52 East, Ellijay. 706-273-3821, randaorchards.com.
Swimming pig races, mini-golf, corn mazes, pedal carts, live bluegrass bands, U-pick apples and wagon rides are among the entertainments on offer at Hillcrest Farms in Ellijay on weekends. On weekdays, the farm market and bakery are open daily, along with wagon rides, petting farm, jump pad, slides, playgrounds and one pig race.
9 a.m.- 6 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 7-Oct. 27 (for U-Pick). 9696 Ga. 52 E., Ellijay. 706-273-3838, hillcrestorchards.net.
Red Apple Barn
Pick-your-own apples begins Aug. 24 and is available on weekends in September and October, “or until all the apples are picked in the orchard.” There are wagon rides, games of corn hole, pumpkin painting and doughnut eating. “We’re going to have a bumper apple crop this year,” said owner Barry Pritchett. “We’re not highly commercialized. We’ve got mules in the orchard and people can feed the mules.”
10:30a.m.-5:00 p.m. Saturday, 1-4 p.m. Saturday and 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. on Labor Day. 3379 Tails Creek Road, Ellijay. 706-635-5898, redapplebarn.com.
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The Georgia Apple Festival
This celebration of North Georgia’s favorite fruit takes place in Ellijay over two weekends in mid and late October. Downtown Ellijay hosts a parade on Oct. 19, beginning at 10 a.m., and invites visitors to the Ellijay Lions Club Fairgrounds in Ellijay. The festival features activities, arts and crafts, and more than 300 vendors offering handmade items.
About 50,000 visitors are expected, according to Lisa Salman, communications and tourism manager for the Gilmer Chamber of Commerce.
Salman adds that on the square in downtown Ellijay, the smaller Apple Arts Festival takes place at the same time, at the intersection of Main Street and Broad Street.
The Georgia Apple Festival: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Oct. 12-13 and Oct. 19-20. $5, children 9 and younger are free. 1729 South Main St., Ellijay. 706-636-4500, georgiaapplefestival.org.
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