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September has brought the love of Fall to the forefront of everyone’s mind. Even at the market, while we are peddling peppers and popcorn on one end, bat ornaments and Fall themed portraits fill the other. Although some people will tell you that pumpkins are the end all be all of Fall, I will argue that nothing signals the change of season more than the luscious apple. This might cause a riot but fresh cider, dunking for apples, and apple pie defined Fall way before the invasion of the Pumpkin Spice Latte. Apples come on right when Fall starts and carry on throughout the season; unlike the ‘orange trash gourd,’ as my husband calls it. So, imagine my overwhelming delight, when Little America Orchard made their triumphant return to the St. George farmers’ market. They are a certified organic orchard from New Harmony. Being that close and that intriguing I basically demanded an interview upon meeting them. As I headed up on Tuesday, the gloomy weather threatened to ruin my trip, but I stayed positive and persevered.

Google Maps fervently tried to convince me to cut through the cemetery to get to Little America Orchard. When I refused, it directed me further down another side street that promptly ended, leaving only an unmarked gravel lane in front of me. I began to drive up it, thinking that the apple tree lined fence was a fortuitous omen. Almost as if Google sensed my thoughts, it gently chimed that this was not the orchard I was looking for and to continue further up the road. Slowly I gained elevation and popped out on the top of the hillside above the surrounding orchards. I gasped. The trail like road had opened up to a 360-degree panoramic view that reminded me of The Lord of The Rings with the Pine Valley Mountains shooting up directly to my left and epic red rock faces protruding in alarming detail to my right. I lifted my foot slowly off my brake and continued to drink in the scenery. As I slowly rolled onto the magnificent 40-acre plot that is Little America Orchard, I found a place to park and lifted myself, and my dropped jaw, out of the car. Tammy Michie opened the house door and called to me smiling. She hurried out to greet me, at which point she motioned to the orchard and said Gary Suppe was just out there picking up apples and would be up in a second. We stood there talking for a minute as we watched the red pickup circle back to the house.

The view off the property

“Man, this is like a story book! Do you just walk out on to your porch and scream ‘YES!’ every morning?”  I looked dumbfounded at Tammy. She laughed, “Pretty much! It’s so beautiful here,” Tammy said motioning to the orchard and house, “but all this is Gary.” The red pickup truck pulled in beside us and Gary stepped out. We walked around the truck to meet him, and as we shook hands he motioned to the full flatbed of ‘ground apples.’ “They’re beautiful,” I said as I started to snap pictures. “Ya, I’ll take these and dump them out back for the deer to eat. We don’t use ground apples ever.” Gary stated. I looked at the apples again, some of them were rotten but most of them looked, for lack of a better word, perfect. My mind then immediately jumped to the delicacy of apple fed venison and had to pull myself back to reality. “Well… what do you want to see?” Gary asked. “Everything.” I quickly responded, “I’m nosey.” He laughed a little and nodded then began walking up to the back building. As we approached some stacked apple boxes and a row of tables with a few scales, Gary began explaining their routine, “This is where we do all our processing. We do everything by hand. We pick the apples, clip them, clean them, sort them, then clean them again, and weigh them.” Because they do everything by hand, they can meet special orders and do custom weights. I peered into the boxes overwhelmed by their blush colored contents, then looked up, “Wait… Just the two of you? Or do you have help?” Without a moments hesitation Gary repeated my statement, “Just the two of us.” I raised my eyebrows and looked back over my shoulder at the 250 apple trees. Gary seemed to read my mind, “It’s hard, you know? You can’t hire people when you don’t know how much you’ll make off the apples.” I asked how long his work days were, and he said during long summer days he’ll go out before the sun and come in after dark.

I turned back and mindlessly reached in the box and grabbed an apple for closer inspection. The skin was so beautiful and

The cider press

perfect I could see little reflections on the surface. “Wow,” I said, “This really is a beautiful apple. Is it waxed or something?” I looked up at Gary. His answer was already waiting for me, “No. I don’t use anything like that on my apples. I mean I could use a wax and still be considered organic, but I won’t. That’s just who I am.” I knew he meant it. This also got us talking about the fact that Little America Orchard is USDA certified Organic. A process that you don’t go through unless you are patient and 100% serious. He walked me through the seemingly endless paperwork, the bi-annual visits from inspectors, and the rigorous testing. “Sometimes I roll my eyes and wonder why I do this,” Gary’s tone suggested he was only half joking.  He quickly pointed to the bushel behind the table and explained that these were the cider apples. “Do you want to see the cider press?” Tammy asked. I nodded emphatically. Gary walked me over to a door that opened onto an industrial stainless-steel wash basin and uncovered a beautiful, massive, old-fashioned cider press. “WOW!” I squealed. “Is it a hand press?” “Yep, like I said we do everything by hand. We’ll probably start doing cider here at the end of the month.” I started to salivate.  I helped him put the cover back on the press, and trailed behind him out the door to join back up with Tammy. We stood out front for a second, when Tammy pointed up the hill and asked if I wanted to see the cooler.

 

Now, obviously, when there is a cooler on an apple farm, it should be no surprise when said cooler is full of apples. I still was surprised. I was even more shocked when Gary pointed out that, “These are only Galas, when the other varieties start coming on, you won’t even be able to walk in here.” I was positively giddy. Even in a cooler, the fresh delicious apple-y scent permeated everything. Not the synthetic Bath and Body nonsense, but the real stuff. My lizard brain was going crazy as Gary closed the massive door. We turned and looked back at the orchard and began to walk down. “So how many other varieties do you have?” I asked. “Gala, Golden Delicious, Fuji, Cameo, Pink Lady, and Braeburn,” Gary answered quickly and precisely and started listing why he chose these five. He also went into detail about their staggered growing seasons. I was struggling to get my chubby fingers to type fast enough on my phone, I made the note to try voice recording from here on out. Gary told me that he had bought the trees out of Washington in ’03 and as part of the ‘Certified Organic’ process, he had to have them inspected upon purchase. “Wait, I thought you said you started in ’09?” I stopped. “That’s the first year we got fruit off the trees. That’s the first year we certified the fruit. The process started way before that.” I was beginning to see the true scope of the never-ending paperwork Gary had mentioned. “You said this was a childhood dream, did you grow up around apples?” I asked. Gary then described growing up in upstate New York and every October visiting the orchards: doing the U-picks, drinking cider, and being swept up in the spirit of apple season. It wasn’t hard to imagine the magic of those apple orchards when I looked across at Gary’s own little apple filled paradise.

The boxes of beautiful Galas, Gary and Tammy outside the cooler.

As the three of us stepped across the threshold into the orchards, the thought crossed my mind that this was probably hands down the most beautiful orchard in Utah. Gary spaced the trees farther apart than average (13 ft. to be exact) to help mitigate the spread of disease. Dark, lush rows of clover run under the trees to, “Fixate nitrogen into the soil for the trees.” Gary said while reaching up to grab an apple. “Let me show you this one. It’s been so incredibly dry this year that the grasshoppers have cleaned the leaves off of all these trees.” Gary mumbled, in between bites of his apple. “See watch, he knows everything about these trees. He’s out here all the time.” Tammy whispers and nods supportively.  I laughed, recognizing this mindset anywhere. It’s something that only happens when you work the same piece of land over and over. It becomes a family member. You do everything in your power to help it succeed and love it even when it’s being difficult. It’s absolutely beautiful to see this connection first hand. Gary finally made it to the row of grasshopper vandalized trees and showed me the raw exposed branches. He then pointed to a few stray apples on the ground. “My chore today is to clear the ground so the rabbits and ants don’t come in.” He joked finishing his apple. “So, a lot of what you do as an Organic grower is proactive.” I commented. “EXACTLY!” Gary answered, “I do everything I can to stop the problem before it starts, because the stuff I spray with every 10 or 15 days you can pretty much eat.” We walked through row after beautiful row. The fruit ranging in color from blush to gold to green to pink against the gray skies. Gary pointed out the different shades, saying things like, “You won’t see that in a chemical apple.” When I asked him to elaborate, he told me about all the different chemicals you can put on a tree not just pesticides. “You know that cooler up there? Big orchards will have a bunch of them. They’ll fill it with apples and put a chemical in there commonly called ‘smart fresh’ seal it up, and as long as it stays sealed those apples will keep for up to two years.” My stomach turned, and I think from the look on my face, Gary could tell he had sold me.

Clockwise from the left: Gary inspecting grasshopper damage, apples, apples , and more APPLES!

We circled back toward the house and Gary mentioned that he had to feed his gigantic Koi fish. “What?” I stopped. “Do you want to feed them?” He asked. “Yes, yes I do.” We walked around the deer apples and talked about food and farming. He pointed out neighboring orchards and ponds. We approached the gigantic man-made pond and he whistled for the Koi to come. As he sprinkled the food pellets hundreds of mouths and different patterns emerged out of the water. I laughed and tried to get pictures. “Do you have these for fun?” I chuckled. “No, I sell them too sometimes. Mostly to places in Vegas, but they’re fun.”  He explained sizes to me and patterns and then we walked back toward the house, where Gary disappeared into the orchard again and Tammy took me around the house. While we were standing on the deck, I turned to her and said, “Well what if I never want to leave?” Tammy laughed and understandingly said, “Everyone says that.” I smiled at her and thanked her for sending me off with a few bags of apples. On the way out, I stopped a record breaking five times to take pictures. I smiled all the way home. When I unloaded, I cut up an apple to share with my son and husband. I am not ashamed to admit, that after my first bite I immediately took all the pieces out of their hands and grabbed the plate and ate my apple alone in a corner. They’re that good.

The beautiful orchard

If you would like to get your hands on some apples from Little America Orchard, they will be selling at the Downtown Farmers’ Market at Ancestor square for the rest of the season or you can reach them at littleamericaorchard@hotmail.com or by phone at (435) 414-5554.

When you get involved in community-oriented events, you start seeing how intertwined the community really is. Everyone knows somebody who knows somebody who makes something and so on. It’s not uncommon for artisans or farmers to recommend people to me saying things like, “You should call them, they do (insert something random and amazing here).” So, when one of our talented art vendors, Hannah Gabrielsen, asked if her sister could sell baked goods, I wasn’t surprised and was more than happy to oblige. However, what did catch me off guard was when Laine Gabrielsen, the younger sister, showed up with a full-blown farm set up slinging eggs, fresh chickens, onions, sourdough goodies, and a sign heralding tours of their farm. I walked up to the booth, “Wow, so you’re a farmer not just a baker! You do tours?” Laine smiled and nodded. Hannah chimed in, “You should see the farm sometime. It’s literally the happiest place on earth. She has goats.” I laughed but set a reminder in my phone to schedule a visit to New Harmony. Over two months later, I finally got a chance to visit Five Fingers Farm and it was worth every second of the 40-minute northbound journey on the I-15. I pulled up to the beautiful hand painted sign and unlatched the gate. As I drove up the gravel road, I could see Laine’s silhouette waiting for me at the end of the driveway next to what looked like a huge white boulder. When I got closer, I realized the boulder was a gigantic white dog. As I opened my car door, the great white beast met me face to face. “Hi!” Laine piped, “This is Murphy. Just push him aside.” Murphy, a Great Pyrenees-Newfoundland mix, did not move until he received his mandatory hello snuggles then quickly circled back to Laine’s side; a post he maintained for the duration of my visit.

The Farm

Laine, Murphy, and I began to stroll around the farm. “Have you lived here your whole life? How’d you end up in New Harmony?” I asked anxiously. “My mom grew up gardening and my parents (Todd and Liz Gabrielsen) moved all over California, then to Salt Lake and about 10 years ago my mom just really wanted to move back to a small town and work the land. They began looking and found this place.” Nine years ago, the property was in foreclosure, had only a house on it, and was filled with junk. “Every oil change the man ever made was sitting in buckets out back,” Laine said, pointing to a patch of land near where the present day greenhouses are. “On top of all the physical trash we had to remove, the soil showed every sign of erosion and overgrazing. Our main focus since then has been to rebuild the soil. If the soil is healthy, everything else is.” I would soon realize how serious she was. Everything at Five Fingers Farm is about soil.

We meandered down the green, open path that led down to the various pens of livestock. Hens, Guinea fowl, and roosters all paraded before us, moving in glistening feather ripples down the lawn and clucking in their various dialects. It was difficult not to start daydreaming about living there. “So, these guys just run around all the time?” I said, gesturing at the menagerie of birds in front of me. “Yep!” Laine answered, “All of our birds are free range. They play a huge part in rebuilding the soil,” She went into a deep breakdown of the biochemical makeup of chicken poop and how it’s good for immediate pasture use but needs to be broken down for garden use. “We also look at them as the clean-up crew. They will come in and get rid of pests and prevent a lot of diseases from spreading… Also, they’re just happier and healthier running around.” Laine smiled. I asked if they were organic. “For us organic isn’t the end all be all. I mean, there are chemicals we won’t spray, but for me to feed them organic I’d have to have it shipped in across the country and by that time the carbon footprint alone isn’t worth it. It’s our belief that local is better.” I wanted to bow to her but thought that would make it weird, yes local is better, I echoed in my mind. “The chickens live the way they were meant to live, we feed them what they’re supposed to eat, no soy, from a local supplier that we like. I think that’s good enough.” Behind me was a stainless-steel table that Laine pointed at matter-of-factly, “This is where we do the slaughtering, we’re all open air which keeps it super clean.” She explained that they had learned how to process their own birds from a New Harmony old timer and were committed to growing the operation but still doing it right. I was a little stunned. No smell, no stains, no waste. Just a calm red barn and a beautiful morning.

I stood and stared at the beautiful red barn for a minute, wondering if it was for events or for actual use. Almost as if she read my mind, Laine pointed at the barn telling me about how it was, in fact, used for animals in the winter, and that it too played a part in rebuilding the soil. “We use the manure as fertilizer, but instead of mucking out the stalls and breaking our backs every day, we do what’s called deep bedding.” First, they put out straw and when the animals have done their business to the point of needing new straw, they scatter grain across it, then start over. “When it needs to be turned, we let the pigs in there and they’ll turn it looking for the grain.” Almost as if on cue, the pigs in front of us started squealing for our attention. “Ah, the pigs!” Laine said, as we got a little closer to the raucous pair, “You see how their snout curls up right there? It makes a perfect little shovel.  We also move them around to different areas of the farm and they turn the soil for us.” The back portion of their pen had been expertly tilled in huge rows. “I mean we could buy a tiller and do it ourselves but this way we get bacon out of it,” Laine shrugged. I couldn’t help but giggle, “Bacon is good.” The two pigs, sourced from Ivins, bounced along the fence squeaking their side of the story. It was all I could do to resist reaching in the pen and ruffling them like puppies. “Be careful they bite,” Laine stated. I kept my hands to myself.

The pigs. chickens running a muck, and the glorious Bucket the Buck.

As we turned, we were met with the greenhouses and Bucket, their buck goat. “Almost all our animals are named after Shakespeare characters,” chimed Laine, as she made the introduction. I asked Bucket to smile for me and snapped a quick picture. As Bucket and I sat there ogling each other, Laine walked me through the history of how they went from dairy cows to goats. She explained that they had better luck processing it, but there were some failed experiments. I must admit, at this point we were less than half way done with our farm tour and I was flabbergasted by Laine’s knowledge and commitment to the farm. I felt a little jealous of the fact that she’s found her calling so young but simultaneously felt super grateful to her for sharing her passion. We left Bucket and headed to the two greenhouses behind him. I asked if they were store bought or custom. “These are custom built by a friend of ours. We told him that we wanted greenhouses and he said that he had figured out a design that could withstand the winds that come through here. So, we put them in and they’ve been perfect!” She cracked the door and my jaw dropped as we were greeted by a tomato forest. “Holy crap!” I exclaimed as I stepped in. “Ya, they love it in here!” Laine smiled. I learned that most diseases that affect tomatoes are wind born so the greenhouse keeps them protected. It also plays a huge part in keeping them safe from the farm’s grasshopper invasion, which had wiped out several plots already.  We moved to the next greenhouse. “This is our Fall greenhouse, so we’ve just planted it.” There were different crops of arugula, spinach, beets, and cabbage. “Do you guys live off of what you grow on the farm?” I asked. “Probably about 40- 50% of what we eat comes from the farm, but I would say 75% of what we eat is local. We like to support our other local farms too.”

the view of the Five Fingers

We stepped out of the greenhouse into the mid-morning sun, where we were rejoined by Murphy, and began to walk around the pasture. As I followed Laine, she started pointing out the water drainage patterns on the property. She showed me the berms they had built to keep the water from flowing straight off the property. I asked them if they had water rights, acting like I had a clue what I was talking about. “Yes we do, but wells are notorious for going dry around here. That’s why it’s so important to have good soil. If the soil is good, it will hold the water. If it’s not, the water just runs off.” As I trailed behind her she would point to little things around us, saying phrases like, “Do you see that? That’s a good sign!” and “Look! That wasn’t like that a year ago.” When we turned to start heading up to the orchard, I looked up, “WOW.” The Five Fingers of Kolob were glistening in the sun. “Ya, it’s beautiful.” Laine sighed. “Is that where the name comes from?” I asked. “It’s one of the reasons,” Laine answered, “There are also five of us in the family and my mom wanted us to know that there is no shame in working the land with your hands.” Beautiful, I thought. She unhinged the gate in front of us, and Laine, Murphy, and I walked through into the orchard filled with grapes, peaches, and apples. The grasshoppers had left their mark here too. The apple trees were full of fruit but missing all their leaves. I pointed to a brand-new structure being built and asked if they were putting in a tiny home. “No, my brother is building a shed, but we are totally inspired and want to build a tiny house next,” Laine laughed.

Here, we crossed the lilac hedgerow into the huge garden, which quickly became my favorite spot on the property. Beautiful, lush, green foliage cascaded out of every raised bed. Tall, healthy rows of plants trailed down one side. Laine pointed out that in this area they practice no till gardening. The reason why is to preserve the fungi systems that run through the soil, making it easier for the plants to get the nutrients they need. We walked through the rows of gigantic squash and other plants to the bench swing, “Ah, this is my favorite spot!” Laine exclaimed, “Every farm needs a spot where you can sit down and look out and enjoy your hard work.” She sat down and began to swing, smiling completely content. We traded spots and I realized that Laine’s sister really was telling the truth: Five Fingers Farm really is the happiest place on earth. It would make everything worth it to be able to sit down every evening to that view.  As we started down the rows, Laine started sharing her favorite fermenting recipes for beans and cucumbers. We came upon the cinderblock root cellar her dad put in and Laine mapped out what she hoped would be a future berry bramble.  As we approached the house, Liz was out and about with a basket of fresh vegetables. She was wonderful and excited and insisted I take a loaf of bread and some tomatoes. Two things I never turned down.

clockwise from the left” Laine in the Fall greenhouse, tomato forrest, apple trees with no leaves, and some of the garden

I began my long drive home with my car filled with the scent of fresh bread and admiration for Laine and her family. I ran through all the projects they had going and all the work the 20-acre farm takes and how it truly is a family effort and a life’s work. I left the farm feeling like I had a better understanding of life in general and couldn’t wait for Saturday to buy one of Laine’s chickens. Laine sells most Saturdays at the Downtown Farmer’s Market at Ancestor Square and you can follow her on Instagram HERE, be sure to reach out and schedule your own tour!