As the summer days give way to crisp fall weather, we all eagerly look forward to one of the best fall activities in North Jersey: apple picking. Riamede Farm in Chester, New Jersey has acres upon acres of pick-your-own apple trees that offer brightly-colored fruit for visitors to pick and bring home. This old-fashioned apple farm boasts 75-year-old trees, which are considered vintage, and each carries its own unique taste profile. In the months to come, the tractor-pulled hayride to the back of the orchard will bring apple adventures to each row of newly ripening fruit trees. We took a visit to this autumnal haven right at the beginning of its season. Read on to learn all about Riamede Farm, a pick-your-own apple orchard located at 122 Oakdale Road in Chester, NJ.
From August to Autumn + Apples
Now that August is coming to a close, apple picking season is officially upon us. Riamede Farm is one of the many old-fashioned apple farms that we know and love in the Tri-state area. The gnarled old trees are grandly beautiful and the vista from the orchard is magnificent. The trees ripen according to their elevation, which results from their degree of sun exposure. Each apple variety is identified by its taste and use — described as sweet, tart, spicy, crisp, slow to brown, or best for baking. What they all share is a brighter, richer-toned side where they are touched by the sun — that magic, sun-kissed apple that’s easier to grasp when you pick them yourself.
A Tradition of Women Farmers
Ashley O’Keefe, the owner of Riamede Farm, grew up in Chester. After serving 15 years in the US Navy, she came back to her hometown with the intention of promoting local food and local landmarks. She found both and more in Riamede Farm. Ashley follows in the work boot steps of Riamede’s previous owner, Debbie Post who, after 30 years as a banker with a Harvard MBA, came home to her mother’s apple orchard when her mother died. As the inheritor of Riamede, Debbie successfully shifted the farm into a pick-your-own destination for the public.
Back then, in the early 1970s, Debbie proved the naysayers — and there were plenty in the beginning — wrong with her refusal to replace her mother’s massive old trees with highly-pruned, more productive trees. Debbie also focused her attention on a successful transformation of the orchard’s business model, and now, Ashley has fully embraced the agricultural heritage she has taken over. She recognizes and embraces the knobby charm of the old trees that long ago fell out of fashion in commercial apple orchards. And, luckily for the couples, families, and troupes of friends who come to Chester for an idyllic outing, she continues Debbie’s tradition of the harvest as a community event while bringing in new collaborations with skilled local artisans.
Mutual Support Between Small Local Businesses
The farm shop is a specialty goods store that features all kinds of difficult-to-walk-by, one-of-a-kind foods and special finds. Each business owner whose products are highlighted within the store has a touching origin story for their tiny, mighty venture.
Jess Bourgeois, owner of Bloom & Bramble, leases acreage from Riamede Farms to grow her flowers. She has a different aesthetic from your average florist, using vintage hues and her knowledge of how things are grouped in the wild when they grow in nature. Jess initially picked up her art of flower arrangement while watching her mother grow her own sumptuous garden in Vermont and followed that up with a professional degree in floral design. She describes her craft as the magic of small gestures and revels in her connections to people’s big and little life moments — from bridal to baby showers, rainy days, and milestone birthdays. Jess is married to Jamie Bourgeois, the only full-time Riamede Farm staff outside of Ashley. Jamie has managed the farm for 15 years, spanning the years between Debbie and Ashley’s reigns.
Zachary Hench is a woodworker who has rooted part of his artisanal practice in the heirloom trees of Riamede Farm. At each season’s pruning, Zachary collects the discarded branches and puts them to new use. He sawmills the logs, kiln dries it, and then sets the knotty coils of apple wood into resin to produce gorgeous boards for cutting upon or for presenting charcuterie. He also makes elegant bowls, tables, and benches, as well as occasionally commissioned wall art. His fine work can be found in the farm store.
Herman Chu and his sister, Jessica Chu, live in Morristown. They are the proprietors of Chumami chili oil and the grandchildren of the chef who concocted the heavenly secret sauce. At that time, the family was in London and the recipe was saved for use among the kitchen staff in a restaurant whose patrons were not likely to like spice. Chumami is not shockingly high in heat, though it will wow with its flavor.
Prepared in small batches in Orange, it is the very same addictive dipping and drizzling sauce/marinade/cooking oil that the larger Chu family, along with their friends, have come to expect at every event. It comes in jars marked “original,” “vegan,” and “ghost pepper.” All of them contain a blend of thoughtfully-sourced local chili peppers and secret spices. The “original” contains savory dried shrimp, while the other two get their umami taste from fermented black beans. Farm visitors who taste one will likely leave with two jars.
Susan Varilias has grown her Lazy Susan Granola business slowly and organically over the last seven years. All of her ingredients are very local, from the oats to the maple syrup. She bakes and packages each small batch of the crunchy sweet clusters that could easily be called cookies with a tiny team of women who gather together in a commercial Long Valley kitchen. Her delicious delights are for sale in the farm store.
The Riamede Farm’s commitment to showcasing the impressive offerings of its entrepreneurial neighbors extends beyond those businesses named here. Only a visit can reveal the wealth of local luxuries made in the lush green hillsides of northern New Jersey.
Rewards for Your Apple-Picking Labor
Riamede Farm is proud of their reputation for the best fresh-baked cider donuts in the area. The farm shop features apple cider from down the road at Melick’s Town Farm and on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, Provence Catering offers fresh meals to go.
With a bag full of apples and the delicacies offered at the farm shop, there’s nothing better than following up with a lunch alfresco. The folks at Riamede ask guests not to make a meal of their bounty on the farm grounds but, instead, recommend bringing all the newly accrued treats to one of the splendid parks nearby: Hacklebarney State Park, Grove Street Park, or Chubb Park.
See More: Berry Picking Farms Near Essex County
First Comes Apples, Then Come Pumpkins
The Riamede Farm pumpkin patch will open before you can bake, sauce, and slice all your apples. Traditional Jack-o’-lantern pumpkins in all different shapes and sizes are available to be cut off the vine early in the pumpkin season. Scrumptious cooking pumpkins, like cheese and sugar pumpkins, along with spaghetti, acorn, delicata, and butternut squash are also grown. Fun artisanal varieties and decorative gourds will make the season pass membership look very attractive.
Riamede Farm is located at 122 Oakdale Road in Chester, NJ and is open 7 days a week from 9AM – 4:30PM.