Bill Suhr, owner of Champlain Orchards, has always loved trees and the environment: as a child, he'd spend a lot of time in the woods, and after college he worked for an environmental consulting firm. Although he enjoyed the work, he realized that wanted to be his own boss, and decided to turn his love of the outdoors into a profession.
In his first year working for himself, he began to peddle apples out of his station wagon. Through this operation, he found a number of customers in Vermont, many of them small farmstands. He began to notice which apple varieties were most popular, and found that there was a demand for cider in addition to the fresh apples.
He realized quickly that the customers that aligned with his values of environmental responsibility, both in terms of how he grew his fruit and where the orchard's power came from, were the customers interested in purchasing directly from him.
That first year, the orchard's apple harvest was in the 5,000 - 10,000 bushel range. In 2016, they picked just under 80,000 bushels - the equivalent of 3.2 million pounds of fruit. Today, in addition to apples, they've diversified the orchard to include pears, plums, peaches, and nectarines.
"The better I care for the land right now, the better off future generations managing this farm will be. Our choice to grow ecologically is at the heart of what gets me excited each morning to come to work."
Bill wants to pass his farm on from generation to generation. As he says, "the better I care for the land right now, the better off future generations managing this farm will be. Our choice to grow ecologically is at the heart of what gets me excited each morning to come to work."
Along with the diversity of Champlain Orchards' apples and their ecological growing practices, they're also pushing towards being more environmentally responsible from an energy standpoint. The orchard has 23 solar trackers, generating just over 200,000 kWh per year. Going solar has given Champlain Orchards the opportunity to communicate with their customers that they're thoughtful about their power, and has allowed them to turn unused land into a source of additional profit for their operation.
Bill is deeply committed to his work: he notes that he wouldn't know how to wake up every morning and go to a job that was creating or promoting something that he didn't value or feel connected to personally. He recognizes how privileged he and the other Champlain Orchards employees are, because every day they are able to make decisions based on values and morals, not just the bottom line.