Their Apples Never Fall too Far from the Tree
By Tom Long and Stacy Milbouer
Fiddlehead Contributing Editors
Forty years before Johnny Appleseed was born, the Mack family of Londonderry planted its first apple tree.
The year was 1732 – the same year George Washington was born, and Benjamin Franklin began publishing “Poor Richard’s Almanac.”
Eight generations of the Mack family have been growing apples in Londonderry ever since, they say, making Moose Hill Orchards, home of Mack’s, the oldest, continuously single-family-run farm in New Hampshire.
“I guess you can say we have a long history,” Andy Mack Sr., 84, patriarch of the family, said. With the understatement of a Yankee farmer, he talks about his family, which has seen the ups and downs of relying on nature for a livelihood for nearly 300 years.
It’s been centuries of trial and error, but they have always succeeded in growing the iconic American fruit.
“At one time we have grown practically everything that could be grown in New Hampshire,” Mack said. “In the beginning, when John Mack came over from Londonderry, Ireland, he — like many farmers — brought cuttings and whatever plants he thought could be grown here, but, of course, the climates are different.”
The family now farms 400 acres with 100 dedicated to 20 varieties of apples. They also grow peaches, squash, more than 30 acres of pumpkins and have an ice cream stand. Visitors are welcomed to the property to visit the farm stand, pick apples or pumpkins, have a picnic or hike on trails maintained by Londonderry Trailways.
“Most of our orchards have been replanted perhaps a couple of times,” Mack said.
One 200-year-old tree, a green Gravenstein, is no longer productive, but he said he is thinking of creating some kind of a memorial out of it.
He recently visited the state library in Concord looking for records of his family, and said, “I found that nearly every member of the family was paid 20 pounds for signing up during the Revolutionary War, some were even paid a penny a mile for travel.”
John Mack had eight children. One son followed New Hampshire-born newspaperman Horace Greeley’s advice to “go west young man.” He made it as far as Iowa and wrote back to John, “It’s too windy to grow apples here. I’m coming home.”
And he did.
Andy Sr. was also tempted at one time to leave.
“I got a degree in horticulture at the University of New Hampshire and a professor — an internationally famous plant breeder whose name escapes me — was also on the board of United Fruit Co. He asked if I would like to grow bananas in South America. My mother said to me, ‘your dad would really like it if you would take over the farm.’ My brother wasn’t interested in farming, so I stayed.”
He said before his time, the family was only selling apples to a wholesaler. “Neighbors would come by and ask if we could sell them some, but we only sold them by the bushel. Over my lifetime we’ve built up the retail business.”
He said, “It’s very important to improve our apples every year. We’re always walking a fine line with apples. You want to grow apples that are not too hard, and not too soft… crisp,” he said.
And land management is never too far from his thoughts. “We’re trying to reduce our acreage so we’re not spraying too much, growing enough for our customers, but not more than we really need,” he said. “We want to be good stewards of the land. We want to make sure we are keeping an eye on the future of the planet.”