In early October, hay bales, fresh gourds, pumpkins and winter squashes of every shape and size are piled everywhere in a glorious profusion of fall colors at Hale’s Apple Farm and Pumpkin Patch, which opened for the season in August. Boxes of apples–this week, Baldwin, Winesap, Jonathan, Pippin, Sleeping Beauty, Golden Delicious and Star King –sit atop a table in front of the store, with jugs of apple juice alongside. Next to the apples are several varieties of tomatoes, including beefsteaks, paste, slicers and pretty little Green Zebras.
A skeleton in a sun hat–don’t want to burn those bleached bones–steers a tractor and two skeleton scarecrows, one dressed in an adorable flouncy dress, offer warm smiles as you step out of your car.
David Hale has been at the helm of his family farm since 1978, though it was founded more than a century ago, in 1883. Originally forty acres, half was sold two or three years ago to satisfy an estate trust. The remaining twenty acres are home to hundreds of apple trees, along with pumpkin vines and tomato plants. There are more than thirty varieties of apples, including three rare ones–Hudson’s Golden Gem , Bramley’s Seedling , an English cooking apple, and Golden Russet , a tart apple from the East Coast–that Hale planted this year.
Hale grew up on the farm at a time when apples provided a healthy living. During his early years managing the property along with fifty additional acres of apples, he sold his entire harvest to corporations like Gerber , producer of baby foods. Then, before prices plunged, it took ten employees to maintain thousands of trees.
Today, Hale tries to do all the work himself and nearly all of his apples are sold directly to consumers. The Fruit Guys, a San Francisco-based distributor, and a couple of pie businesses, also buy Hale’s apples but otherwise, they are sold at the farm stand and at five farmers markets.
Hale attends the Marin Farmers Market in San Rafael on both Thursday and Friday. He is a charter member of the Palo Alto farmers market, which takes place on Saturday, and also attends a fairly new farmers market in the Mission District of San Francisco on Thursday evenings. The only local market where you’ll find Hale apples is the Petaluma Eastside Market but the Sebastopol farm stand is open daily from August through Thanksgiving. The season may wrap up a bit earlier this year, as apples got off to an early start and, so far, each variety is ripening a couple of weeks earlier than usual.
It’s hard to catch Hale at the farm stand itself, as he’s always busy with something, from maintenance and repairs to gopher management. If you want to talk to him face-to-face, a farmers market is your best bet. He also tries to return every phone message he receives.
Hale’s Apple Farm and Pumpkin Patch, founded by the Hale family in 1883 and currently owned and operated by David Hale, is located at 1526 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol. The farm stand is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through mid-November. Locally, you’ll find Hale’s apples and tomatoes at the Petaluma East-Side Farmers Market, which takes place at the Community Center in Lucchesi Park (320 McDowell Blvd.) on Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. You can reach David Hale at 823-4613.