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Sparks

This Is a Bad Year to Go Apple Picking in Virginia

A drought has hit the state’s mountainous west, putting orchards in jeopardy.

Apple picking.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

I tried going apple-picking in Virginia over the weekend, but when we pulled up to the farm one of my friends had found online — a small family-run place called Paugh's Orchard — the owner told us a drought in the region had pretty much rendered the apples useless.

“If they don’t get any bigger than they are right now I can’t imagine anyone would want to pick them,” the orchard’s owner told a local news station back in August. That prediction came true; by the time we pulled up at her farm a month later, she’d started bringing in apples from other areas to sell to customers.

Drought.gov map of Virginia drought.Drought.gov



Virginia is the country’s sixth biggest producer of apples, with most of its orchards in its mountainous western region. According to theDaily News-Record, another local outlet, the apples that have grown in this part of the state are smaller than last year, which makes them harder to pick, which in turn increases labor costs for farms that hire seasonal apple-pickers. And orchards that rely on income from people like me rolling up to pick their own apples are finding themselves without apples worth picking. That is, as my colleague Matthew noted, bad for the Instagram grids of influencers who live in the region and thrive on fall content, but more importantly it’s another example of the ways climate change is making small-scale farming — a hard enough business already — tougher than ever.

Green
Neel Dhanesha profile image

Neel Dhanesha

Neel is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Prior to Heatmap, he was a science and climate reporter at Vox, an editorial fellow at Audubon magazine, and an assistant producer at Radiolab, where he helped produce The Other Latif, a series about one detainee's journey to Guantanamo Bay. He is a graduate of the Literary Reportage program at NYU, which helped him turn incoherent scribbles into readable stories, and he grew up (mostly) in Bangalore. He tweets sporadically at @neel_dhan.

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