Update, August 2: Good news! Turns out Three Springs had a separate orchard of young, 2-year-old Honeycrisp trees that did bear some fruit this year. They’re a slightly different strain the Wenk family calls “Premier Honeycrisp,” which ripens early. So starting mid-August, a small supply of these apples will be offered for sale at markets around Philly.
God is not smiling on Philly apple fans this year. Three Springs Fruit Farms is usually one of the region’s most prolific providers of the beloved modern variety known as Honeycrisp — a cultivar that has been called “America’s first brand-name apple” and is prized for its sweet flavor, refreshing crunch and easy bite.
But not this year. And the only blame goes to nature itself.
Last Monday, a freak hailstorm rained down on certain sections of Adams County, including a swath of land containing several Three Springs plots. According to seventh-generation farmer and Billy Penn Who’s Next honoree Ben Wenk, it was likely the worst single significant hail event his family had experienced in at least 20 years.
“For the severity of hail, this is terrible,” Wenk said. “Six to 20 hail marks per fruit.”
The areas hit encompassed every Honeycrisp tree on the farm, so there will be no good apples to sell this season. None at all. Not at farmers markets like Headhouse, nor at Whole Foods, which usually stocks cases with them, or to various restaurants around the city, where the apples are often used in both salads and desserts.
When still-green apples are damaged on the tree to this extent, a fair amount will begin to rot and simply fall off, Wenk explained. Whatever does make it to full ripeness will be severely bruised — not even usable for Ploughman Cider, Wenk’s burgeoning side business. The plan is to take those that make it off in one piece to market and sell them at a discount.
That plan is designed more as a way to show people what happened than a way to make money. Which is unfortunate, because this cost the Wenks, big.
In addition to the Honeycrisp orchards, the entirety of Three Springs’ small vegetable area was also hit. The full monetary loss from the the random sky-ice attack will run into the tens of thousands of dollars, Wenk said, although the farm does have crop insurance to help defray some of it.
It’s a reminder that nature can sometimes appear cruel, Wenk agreed, though there is a very small upside:
An event like this “makes you thankful it doesn’t happen more frequently.”