From the moment Chuck and Diane Souther met in high school and worked together at a local farm, their shared dream became crystal clear: to spend their lives together and cultivate apples.
That’s exactly what they’ve been doing for nearly five decades at Apple Hill Farm in Concord.
“We fell in love with farming,” said the couple, who have been married for 19 years. “We wanted a career where we can spend every day together and we got lucky.”
At the break of each day on Apple Hill Farm, the Southers chart out the tasks that lie ahead and divide them up.
While Diane’s expertise shines as she manages the farm retail store that offers homemade delights like jams, jellies, and apple cider, Chuck reigns over the expanse of the orchard, nurturing the growth of their yields.
Despite their distinct responsibilities, the Southers often find themselves intertwined in various aspects of the farming business, functioning like a well-oiled machine, driven by their love for each other and their passion for farming.
“Diane is like the Honeycrisp apple,” Chuck laughed, “She is snappy and sweet at the same time.”
Diane playfully said, “He’s a McIntosh. It’s my favorite apple.”
Over the years, the couple has cultivated a diverse variety of heirloom apples at Apple Hill Farm. However, their journey has been one of trial and error, where they sifted through several options to identify those best suited for their orchard.
But lately, they have been planting newer varieties because that appears to be the true customer preference, said Chuck.
Among the many varieties of heirloom apples, the orchard offers Baldwin, Gravenstein and Hudson’s Golden Gem.
For the Southers, farm work breaks up the monotony of life and they value the bond they’ve formed with the employees.
“Every day is different,” said Diane. “I love working with the people, They become your friends and your family. We call them a farm-ily.”
Beyond just apples, the farm offers a diverse selection of seasonal vegetables and berries. This diversity wasn’t always a hallmark of the farm; the shift occurred in the 1990s as the apple wholesale business experienced disruptions due to market fluctuations and the rise of supermarket chains.
In response to these challenges to keep the business afloat, the Southers went on to expand their product line.
“It has turned into a risk management decision growing different crops in addition to offering our customers a whole bunch of products,” said Chuck.
In farming all of its produce, Apple Hill Farm has embraced sustainable practices with guidance from the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension.
One of the sustainable practices is integrated pest management, which seeks harmony with nature rather than dominance over it.
“Instead of trying to control everything, we try to manage both the pests and the beneficial insects,” said Chuck. “It’s not a spray to kill everything.”
As the Southers work day in and day out, right up until Thanksgiving, when the farm closes for the season, they carve out moments to unwind.
They take leisurely rides around the orchard in their golf cart in the evenings or spend quiet moments with each other basking in the sunset’s glow, listening to the sounds of chirping birds.
“Not everyone wants to work together but the best day is the day we spend together,” said the Southers.