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Meet Pomologist James Wargo of Southbury’s Hidden Gem Orchard and learn a little more about apples!
Hidden Gem Orchard is owned by James Wargo of Woodbury. He grew up in Woodbury and obtained a B.S. degree in Horticulture from The University of Connecticut. He went on to achieve a Master of Science in Pomology (fruit science) from Cornell University. James has worked in various roles in the fruit industry in the eastern half of the United States for the past 21 years primarily in applied field research and product development. He currently works full time in sales for an agricultural products company based in California.
After living away from Connecticut for nearly 20 years, James returned to his native state in 2017 to embark on a lifelong dream of owning and operating his own fruit farm. He is happy to say it is a dream fulfilled!
Hidden Gem Orchard is a no-frills apple orchard located in the Purchase section of Southbury, CT. It was established in 2017 on land that was formerly part of the Southbury Training School farm. It currently consists of 4,000 apple trees grown on 6 acres. Approximately 3,000 trees were planted over a two-year period in 2017 and 2018. Smaller amounts were planted in subsequent years.
Presently, 31 apple varieties are grown with more being added each year. Some are “common” varieties that consumers are generally aware of such as Honeycrisp, McIntosh, Gala, Cortland and Fuji. Others are either uncommon or antique apples that are scarcely available. Examples include varieties such as Esopus Spitzenburg, which was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple grown at Monticello. Pink Pearl – a red fleshed apple. Hudson Golden Gem – an apple that looks and tastes like a pear. Porters Perfection and Golden Russet, both antique varieties coveted for making premium apple cider. And two new releases from the Cornell Apple Breeding Program that were just named in 2020 (Cordera and Firecracker). Additional varieties were planted in 2021 including a 16th century French variety (Calville Blanc), prized for pastries and baking, and Wickson, a variety that produces intensely flavored miniature apples. In summation, it’s a one-of-a-kind medley of apples whose melody is still being written.