By: Megan Mannering
MISSOULA — If you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel looking for ways to keep the family entertained without all of our normal outings this year, a trip to the apple orchard could be just what you need.
Green Bench Orchard located at 4701 South Ave in Missoula welcomes apple pickers every weekend for its U-pick season.
Greeting you at the gate will be Fred Stewart, although his customers know him as Farmer Fred.
Nine years ago Farmer Fred planted the first apple tree of what’s now Green Bench Orchard. While he’s not the only Johnny Appleseed in town, his operation is quite unique.
“Every apple has to come out of here for sanitation reasons,” said Stewart, “We offer certified organic apples and we don’t use chemicals. Everything has to come out.”
Think of it as a blowout sale where everything must go, so when you’re picking apples at Green Bench Orchard, no need to hold back on your harvest.
“We sell the apples by the bag. We don’t weigh anything, people just fill the bag up and grab and go! So right now it’s Honey-crisp and Good-land. Those are big draws for the community, and we have other varieties that are coming on over the next couple of weeks,” said Stewart.
While visiting Green Bench Orchard, you’ll notice that Stewart enforces mask wearing.
The Health Department isn’t forcing this mandate at a privately owned apple orchard, but Stewart feels it’s the safest thing to do, and it certainly isn’t hurting business as the orchard always has a crowd, socially distanced of course.
“I don’t want anybody getting sick, and it’s such an easy thing wearing a mask. It doesn’t have to be a political statement, it just makes sense to try and stay healthy for me and my customers. Everybody shows up wearing masks, even the little kids wear masks, so it’s really encouraging,” said Stewart.
Green Bench Orchard also holds designated picking times for at-risk and senior populations.