Champlain Orchards, Shoreham, Vt., is one of 17 Northeast orchards certified in the Eco Apple program for 2018. ( Courtesy Red Tomato, Champlain Orchards )

The Eco Apple sustainability program continues to build participation in the Northeast, with 17 orchards representing 1700 acres now enrolled.

The certified orchards include pick-your-own and wholesale orchards in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont, according to a news release.

An additional operation, Three Springs Orchard in Aspers, Pa., plans to become certified in 2019, according to the release.

The Eco Apple program began in 2004 as a partnership between Red Tomato, a nonprofit food hub in Plainville, Mass., and fruit growers wanting to earn recognition for ecological practices appropriate for the Northeast climate and growing conditions. In its first year the program had six orchards with 400 acres.

The certification program supports and recognizes growers who use eco-sensitive practices for minimally treated fruit. While the Pacific Northwest climate is ideal for producing organic fruit, growers in the Northeast deal with insects and diseases that make organic certification impractical, according to the release. Orchards are certified by the IPM Institute of North America, a non-profit based in Madison, Wis.

Eco Apple growers use integrated pest management as a first line of defense and work to promote soil and tree health, nurture pollinators and protect biodiversity and safe working conditions, according to the release.

“We are especially proud that the program addresses specific farming challenges for this region, and helps these farms to remain vibrant and sustainable. We want the Northeast’s great apples and beautiful orchards to be with us for many generations to come,” Susan Futrell, the program’s director, said in the release.

Analysis conducted last year shows use of high-risk chemicals among Eco-certified orchards has decreased 59% since 2004, and has continued to drop 18% since 2010, according to the release.

“The pressure from pests and disease in an orchard can vary from year to year due to weather and other conditions, but the goal of the Eco program is to steadily reduce overall risk over time. We are encouraged to see the data indicate that is happening,” Thomas Green, entomologist and president of the IPM Institute, said in the release.

Participating orchards grow a range of apple varieties, from Honeycrisp and gala to mcintosh, macoun, cortland and empire, as well as many heirloom varieties. Several orchards (marked with an asterisk below) are also certified in the Eco Stone Fruit program for 2018:

  • Blue Hills Orchards, Wallingford, Conn.*;
  • Lyman Orchards, Middlefield, Conn.*;
  • Rogers Orchards, Southington, Conn.*;
  • Ricker Hill Orchards, Turner, Maine;
  • Clark Brothers Orchards, Ashfield, Mass.;
  • Davidian Bros. Farms, Northborough, Mass.;
  • Phoenix Fruit Farm, Belchertown, Mass.;
  • Fishkill Farms, Hopewell Junction, N.Y.*;
  • Indian Ladder Farms, Altamont, N.Y.;
  • Kleins Kill Fruit Farm, Germantown, N.Y.;
  • Mead Orchards, Tivoli, N.Y.*;
  • Orbaker’s Fruit Farm, Williamson, N.Y.;
  • Sullivan Orchards, Peru, N.Y.;
  • Schlegel Fruit Farm, Dalmatia, Pa.
  • Champlain Orchards, Shoreham, Vt.*;
  • Scott Farm, Dummerston, Vt.; and
  • Sunrise Orchards, Cornwall, Vt.