This 68-acre apple farm in Chester, NJ has opened for its 48th season
As the summer days give way to cool autumn weather, we all look forward to one of the best autumn activities in North Jersey: apple picking. Riamede Farm in Chester, New Jersey has acres and acres of pick-your-own apple trees that offer brightly colored fruit for visitors to pick and take 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-drawn hay ride around the back of the orchard will bring apple adventures to every row of newly ripened fruit trees. We visited this autumnal paradise at the very beginning of the season. Read on to learn all about Riamede Farm, a pick-your-own apple orchard located at 122 Oakdale Road in Chester, NJ.
August to fall + Apples
Now that August is drawing to a close, apple picking season has officially arrived. Riamede Farm is one of the many old-fashioned apple farms we know and love in the tri-state area. The gnarled old trees are majestically beautiful and the view from the orchard is stunning. Trees mature according to their altitude, which results from their degree of sunshine. Each apple variety is identified by its taste and use – described as sweet, tart, spicy, crunchy, slow to brown, or better for baking. What they all share is a brighter, richer side where they’re touched by the sun – that magical, sun-kissed apple that’s easier to grab when you pick them yourself.
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A tradition of women farmers
Ashley O’Keefe, owner of Riamede Farm, grew up in Chester. After serving 15 years in the United States Navy, she returned to her hometown with the intention of promoting local food and local landmarks. She found both and more at Riamede Farm. Ashley follows the steps of Riamede’s former owner’s work boot, Debbie Post who, after 30 years as a banker with an MBA from Harvard, returned to her mother’s apple orchard when her mother died. As Riamede’s heiress, Debbie has succeeded in making the farm a pick-your-own destination for the public.
Back then, in the early 1970s, Debbie proved the naysayers – and there were many early on – wrong by refusing to replace her mother’s massive old trees with highly pruned, more productive ones. Debbie also focused her attention on a successful transformation of the orchard’s business model, and now Ashley has fully embraced the farming legacy she took over. It recognizes and embraces the gnarled charm of old trees that have long since fallen out of fashion in commercial apple orchards. And, fortunately for couples, families and groups of friends who come to Chester for an idyllic outing, she continues Debbie’s tradition of harvesting as a community event while bringing new collaborations with skilled local artisans. .
Mutual support between local small businesses
The Farm Shop is a specialty produce store that offers all kinds of unique and hard-to-browse foods, as well as special finds. Every business owner whose products are showcased in the store has a touching origin story for their small and mighty business.
Jess Bourgeois, owner of Flower & Bramble, rents an area from Riamede Farms to grow its flowers. She has a different aesthetic than your average florist, using vintage hues and her knowledge of how things come together in the wild when they grow in the wild. Jess first learned her art of flower arranging by watching her mother grow her own lavish garden in Vermont and went on to pursue a professional degree in floral design. She describes her craft as the magic of small gestures and revels in its connection to the big and small moments in people’s lives – from weddings to baby showers, rainy days and milestone birthdays. Jess is married to Jamie Bourgeois, Riamede Farm’s only full-time employee outside of Ashley. Jamie managed the farm for 15 years, spanning the years between Debbie and Ashley’s reigns.
Zachary Hench is a carpenter who has rooted part of his craft practice in the heritage trees of the Riamede farm. When pruning each season, Zachary collects discarded branches and reuses them. He saws the logs, dries them in the oven, then fixes the gnarled coils of applewood in resin to produce beautiful boards for cutting or displaying charcuterie. He also makes elegant bowls, tables and benches, as well as occasionally commissioned wall art. His beautiful work can be found in the farm shop.
Herman Chu and his sister, Jessica Chu, live in Morristown. They own Chumami chili oil and the chef’s grandchildren who concocted the heavenly secret sauce. At that time the family was in London and the recipe was saved for use by the kitchen staff of a restaurant whose customers probably did not like the spices. Chumami is not surprisingly hot, although it impresses with its flavor.
Prepared in small batches at Orange, it’s the same addictive sauce/marinade/cooking oil the big Chu family, and their friends, have come to expect at every event. It comes in jars marked “original”, “vegan”, and “ghost pepper”. All contain a blend of carefully selected local chilies and secret spices. The “original” contains savory dried shrimp, while the other two get their umami taste from fermented black beans. Visitors to the farm who taste one will likely walk away with two jars.
Susan Varilias made it grow Lazy Susan Granola slowly and organically over the past seven years. All of its ingredients are very local, from oats to maple syrup. She bakes and wraps each small batch of crunchy sweet clusters that could easily be called cookies with a small team of women who meet in a commercial kitchen in Long Valley. His delicious delicacies are on sale in the farm shop.
Riamede Farm’s commitment to showcasing the impressive offerings of its entrepreneurial neighbors extends beyond the companies named here. Only a visit can reveal the wealth of local luxuries made in the rolling green hills of northern New Jersey.
Rewards for your apple picking work
Riamede Farm prides itself on its reputation for the region’s best fresh cider donuts. The farm shop offers apple cider from down the street to Melick Town Farm and on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, Provencal caterer offers fresh take-out meals.
With a bag full of apples and the delicacies offered at the farm shop, there’s nothing better than continuing with an alfresco lunch. The folks at Riamede ask customers not to have a meal of their bounty on the farm grounds, but instead recommend taking any newly accumulated treats to one of the beautiful parks nearby: Hacklebarney State Park, Grove Street Park or Chubb Park.
Learn more: Berry picking farms near Essex County
First apples, then pumpkins
Riamede Farm’s pumpkin patch will open before you can bake, sauce, and slice all of your apples. Traditional Jack-o’-lantern pumpkins of all different shapes and sizes are available to be cut from the vine at the start of pumpkin season. Delicious cooking pumpkins, such as cheese and sugar pumpkins, as well as spaghetti, acorns, delicata and butternut squash are also grown. Fun craft varieties and decorative water bottles will make the season pass very attractive.
Riamede Farm is located at 122 Oakdale Road in Chester, NJ and is open 7 days a week from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.