Organic Apples: The A.P. Thomson Interview

After revitalizing poor soil exhausted by conventional farming methods, A.P. Thomson has successfully grown organic apples for 30 years!

| January/February 1981

You don't find many pioneers like A. P. Thomson anymore: He's a man who—more than 30 years ago—had the courage and foresight to buck the trend and put his maverick beliefs into practice despite the suspicion and skepticism of folks who just couldn't understand his vision for organic food production in general and an organic apples in particular. 

A.P., you see, is an apple grower (just as his grandfather was) ... but unlike most modern commercial orchardists, this Virginian has never used a single "agribiz" chemical on his 35-acre farm in the rolling countryside of the Shenandoah Valley. Every year, Thomson's Golden Acres Orchard produces seven different varieties of organically grown apples... in addition to unfiltered apple juice and apple cider vinegar. The pure products are sold—mostly by mail order—to customers all over the United States, including doctors, health food stores, co-ops, people who are allergic to common agricultural chemicals, and hundreds of individuals who simply prefer the fresh, untainted taste of A.P.'s fruit.  

After years of research and experimentation, Thomson has developed a system—consisting of a number of environmentally safe treatments and methodsto maintain his orchard's soil fertility, grow hardy trees, repel insects and disease, and produce delicious apples (a fruit which is traditionally among the most difficult crops to grow without pesticide sprays).  

Furthermore, A.P. is eager to pass on his vision, and to spread the word about wholistic farming to anyone who'll listen. He founded—in December of 1979—an organization called Friends of the Farm. Headed by Thomson and Illinois agriculturist Robert Rowe, FOF has already opened several demonstration sites across the country, giving people opportunities to learn the techniques of organic food production from actual working operations (such as A.P.'s orchard).  

Last autumn, MOTHER EARTH NEWS sent horticulturist Larry Hollar and writer Jeanne Malmgren to the Old Dominion state to visit A.P. at his Front Royal home. There, the amiable Virginian took our staffers on an extensive tour of his orchard, cold storage warehouse, apple packing facility, and experimental intensive garden. Afterward, Larry and Jeanne spent several hours talking with Thomson in his gracious, turn-of-the-century house, where they learned more about the orchard-keeper's past and present work and about his hopes for the future. The following transcript—which was edited from that conversation—presents a portrait of the man as an agricultural researcher, a humanist, and a lifelong "natural" farmer. We h ope you'll enjoy meeting A. P. Thomson.  

PLOWBOY: Mr. Thomson, evidence of your devotion to the cause of organic growing is everywhere on this farm: in the acres of healthy, unsprayed trees ... in the storage warehouse full of fragrant, wholesome fruit ... even in the 100-square-foot intensive vegetable plot in the back yard. Can you tell us a little about the events that led to your establishing an organic apple orchard?

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