Jacqueline Devine, Las Cruces Sun-News
Published 9:30 a.m. MT Sept. 14, 2019
LAS CRUCES – Nestled in small farm country off of Shalem Colony Trail in the Mesilla Valley, U-Pick Mesilla Valley Apple Orchard is a hidden gem of about six acres with 400 blossoming apple trees.
LuAnne Burke, grower and owner of the orchard, says the yield has been very bountiful this year and wants the community to share in the lavish crop.
“The thing that breaks my heart is that we’ve never advertised before until recently and people didn’t know we were here,” Burke said. “One year we had thousands of apples. I must’ve seen about 20,000 pounds on the ground.”
For this reason, Burke is encouraging residents to come to the orchard and pick apples to their heart’s content.
The apple orchard grows three different kinds of apples: common delicious, red delicious and Jonathan apples, named after Johnny Apple Seed.
The apple never falls far from the tree
Burke is a fourth generation apple grower. She said apple orchards are deeply rooted in her family, no pun intended.
Her grandfather owned an apple orchard and would sell his crop in El Paso every season.
“My grandfather would sell apples until his wagon was empty. That’s how he sold his crop,” Burke said. “Back then they had a little farmer’s market that was before grocery stores and my dad knew about that history.”
Burke’s uncle even took his apples to the World’s Fair in 1899 in Paris, France, and won second place.
“There’s a letter from the Secretary of Interior praising New Mexico apples. It mentions apples from Doña Ana County,” Burke said. “It was the first World’s Fair with the Eiffel Tower.”
Burke’s father planted the Mesilla Valley Apple Orchard around 1976.
“He had a feeling they would grow very well here. It was a great crop and different timing from pecans which was great because there are some seasons where there’s not enough work and workers could pick apples.”
American as apple pie
Burke said at one point in history New Mexico was filled with apple orchards.
“If you were coming through the Las Cruces and Mesilla area in the 1800’s, instead of alfalfa and pecan orchards you would’ve seen apple orchards,” Burke said. “This valley was full of apple trees and that’s how it was in all of New Mexico. Apples were the number one agricultural crop in the 1800’s.”
Burke said as years went by the market became very competitive and soon her father was not able to compete in the commercial apple industry with the state of Washington ending the family’s apple business.
“The rules had also changed in New Mexico. We had to have a pasteurization machine that cost about $100,000,” Burke said. “That really put the last nail in the coffin.”
Burke’s father passed away in 2014 and although her family wanted to give up on the apple orchard, she took it over.
“I had to show my sisters that it was financially feasible to keep it but we had to turn it around and we had an amazing apple crop,” Burke said. “Every even year we have a great crop and odd years we don’t have any. I was on crutches one year the weekend before Labor Day and we had hail. If they don’t get picked in a week they can rot on the tree. I had a friend who knew someone from KFOX and I asked them to do a story. They ran it in the first minute of news and I purchased 500 bushel bags and sold them for $15. I sold out in two and half days and 10,000 pounds ended up being picked.”
Fun for the whole family
Burke said she would like to see more people from Las Cruces visit the orchard. She said most of her apple pickers come from out of state and El Paso.
“Before we had social media I would say about 99 percent of the calls we would get were from out of state area codes, not even 915. It’s getting better this year but pretty much everyone that comes here comes from El Paso, maybe from Fort Bliss, or they recently moved to the area,” Burke said. “The people that come here know what it’s like to pick apples because they come from states where they do that, it’s almost a tradition. I was selling apple pies one day at the farmer’s market and I told someone to come pick apples at the orchard and he gave me this look, like why would I go pick apples? They just don’t know what it’s like and it makes me so sad.”
Burke said there is nothing like the taste of an apple straight from the apple tree.
“I don’t think I would ever buy an apple from the store. I challenge people to taste what a real apple tastes like,” she said.
Burke said she plans for the orchard to stay open at least two more weeks. She said apple season usually starts around Easter and late August.
A small bag that holds about three pounds costs $6. If you buy four or more they are $4 extra. A bag that holds 13 pounds costs $16 or two for $30.
If you go
Time: Every week day except Wednesdays from 10 to 6:30 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Date: Until end of September
Place: 2330 Shalem Colony Trail, Las Cruces, NM 88007
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