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Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Mass. Offers Memorable "Farmily" Fun

The story of how this fourth generation local business became one of Massachusetts' most popular, beloved travel attractions

A special day at Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Mass.
Picnic and play area by the Country Barn/Brew Barn at Red Apple Farm. Photo credit: Juan Sebastian Palafox

Article and photos, unless otherwise noted, by Eric Hurwitz. Article created on 9/4/2019.

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Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Mass. offers visitors what is often missing in modern society.

At this off-the-beaten path treasure, the chance to truly connect with family, enjoy the simple things in life and have lots of fun in the process is as beautiful a scene as the rural farmland in one of the most underrated regions of Massachusetts. It's hard to believe that this unspoiled, scenic area just off Route 2 in the north central region of the state is just over an hour's drive from Boston, the largest city in New England.

Aerial view of Red Apple Farm in Phiilipston, Mass.
Aerial view of Red Apple Farm. Photo credit: Red Apple Farm.

For many, Red Apple Farm is the apple of one's eye when it comes to visiting what really matters most in New England. The sweet notes of the apples and the overall farm experience has Red Apple Farm coming across as a greatest hits package of a classic rural New England farmstand. For starters, the perfect harmony of fresh air, mountain views, big sky and open fields at 1,250 ft. above sea level allows people to often unplug, relax and return home with a renewed sense.

"We are all about a sense of place," said Al Rose, 48, a fourth generation owner (with wife Nancy) of Red Apple Farm. "We constantly talk about the needs and wants of the people. This is no plastic Disney World here. We are an authentic New England family farm. We like to call ourselves a 'farmily.' It is a place to connect with the past, nature, outdoors, family and neighbors."

For many years best known as a premier apple picking destination, Red Apple Farm offers more than 50 varieties of apples including all the major kinds and even some heirloom versions. No doubt, it is one of the best places to pick apples in New England.

Apple tree at Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, MA.
Apple trees.

There's more than apples at the core of its business, however, thriving year-round with many more attractions. As a great starting point, Red Apple Farm features a rustic, authentic country store that would certainly not look out of place in Vermont where country stores are as much a part of the landscape as the legendary Green Mountains.

Country Store at the Red Apple Farm, Phillipston, Mass.Looking at the country store from the second floor.

Obviously, an apple theme persists here with bags of New England's favorite fruit for sale (and other seasonal produce), delicious apple dumplings, caramel apples, pies, apple butter and fresh apple cider directly from the cider mill press. It's your choice for how you want the cider: refrigerated in containers, hot or cold drinks served directly to the customer in unpasteurized form or slush...

Fresh apple cider from Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Mass.
Containers of delicious apple cider.

Apple cider slush from Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Massachusetts.
Apple cider slush.

Red Apple Farm also happens to makes some of the best apple cider doughnuts found in New England -- full of apple flavor and just the right amount of cinnamon and sugar...

Homemade apple cider doughnuts from Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Mass.
Apple cider doughnuts.

And ditto for the plump, flavorful apple dumplings with its moist, chock full of apples taste...

Homemade apple dumplings from Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Mass.Apple dumplings.

Other New England food staples compete for space, too, like local maple syrups, honey, jams and jellies. Homemade fudge -- a requisite New England country store treat -- has a home here, too, but with a taste much better than most stores of this type in the six-state region. One taste of the plain chocolate, cookies 'n cream and peanut butter/chocolate combo proves that point.

Homemade fudge from Red Apple Farm, Phillipston, Mass.
Homemade fudge.

"The quality of our fudge is top of the line," said Nancy. "It's so good and we have about 20 varieties."

Additionally, Red Apple Farm features an old-fashioned peanut butter machine that turns out some truly delicious peanut butter -- far better than the commercial brands found in supermarkets. Al said the peanut butter is one of its top sellers.

Peanut butter made fresh at Red Apple Farm, Phillipston, Mass.
Freshly-made peanut butter.

Although food-oriented, the Country Store also sells various gifts, toys and books. It's all an essential part of the Red Apple Farm experience.

Going Beyond the Country Store at Red Apple Farm

Hayrides at Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Mass.
Hayrides at Red Apple Farm. Photo credit: Juan Sebastian Palafox.

Depending upon the time of the year, Red Apple Farm also offers hayrides, fall barbecues cooked over a fieldstone grill, farm animals, forest and field walking trails, a picnic pavilion, educational school tours and weddings at the Country Barn.

Outside grill at Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Mass.
Grilling on the weekends at Red Apple Farm. Photo credit: Juan Sebastian Palafox.

The Country Barn becomes the Brew Barn from June to October, offering local brews (including a collaboration with nearby Moon Hill Brewing Co.), fresh-roasted nuts and freshly popped popcorn as well as farm favorites.

The Brew Barn at Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Mass.

The Brew Barn. Photo credit: Juan Sebastian Palafox.

Drinks flight from Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Mass.
Flight of beer. Photo credit: Juan Sebastian Palafox.

Additionally, festivals at Red Apple Farm like the Appleseed County Fair (The Johnny Appleseed legend began in this area) in early September and Thanksgiving Harvest Festival in November bring in thousands -- more people than populate the town of Phillipston! Both events represent a true slice of rural Americana with food, entertainment, arts and crafts and games in a thoroughly unpretentious atmosphere.

Festibal weekend at Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Mass.
Community togetherness at Red Apple Farm.
Photo credit: Juan Sebastian Palafox.

But for all the things to do, sometimes just sitting, reflecting and bonding at this trip back in time destination seems like it could surpass, in its glorious simplicity, all the 21st century wellness protocols that come and go.

The joys of family time together while eating fresh apples is priceless...

Family enjoying apples at Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Mass.
Family enjoys the simplicity of eating apples and enjoying nature at Red Apple Farm.

The feeling of being the only driver on the road makes one more driven to commune with Mother Nature...

Finding the simple things in life at Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Mass.
Out in the rural fields at Red Apple Farm.Photo credit: Juan Sebastian Palafox.

The sense of being on top of the world without any self-serving motives makes sense when being just thankful for what you've got ...

Contented goat at Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Massachusetts
This goat thinks Red Apple Farm is the G.O.A.T (greatest of all time). Photo credit: Juan Sebastian Palafox.

And knowing that gaining sustenance from an idyllic place to live brings about true happiness...

Butterfly at Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Mass.
Butterfly at the farmstand.

Through the Years with the Rose Family and Red Apple Farm

The Rose family at Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Mass.

Al, Nancy and William (Bill) Rose at Red Apple Farm.

Al and Nancy live in a farmhouse built in the 1700s at Red Apple Farm and have four children, Thomas, Aaron, John and Madeline. By the way, Al and Nancy met during the last week of school when students at Boston University!

Al is up very early in the morning tending the field and never getting tired of the stunningly beautiful countryside, the fresh air, the sunrises, a cup of coffee and the chance to work at something meaningful. Although there's a laundry list of training tasks on the office white board and a day of responsibilities that can go into the evening, Al manages to appreciate the simple things in life like...surprise... the taste of an apple.

"If you have a Mac (apple) at its prime -- a little purple at the top from the sun -- my God, there's nothing like that" said Al.

a perfect apple on the tree at Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Mass.
Mac apple from Red Apple Farm. Photo credit: Juan Sebastian Palafox.

His undergraduate degree in international relations from Boston University and graduate degree in agricultural economics from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., has helped with running the farm as a means to interact with all walks of life and use his science and business-based know-how to maintain and advance the farm. His hard work follows as a superb successor to his dad Bill and grandfather, A. Spaulding Rose, who so proudly cultivated the business as a dedicated pomologist (a branch of botany that studies and cultivates fruits) with loving wife Carolyn by his side. Spaulding not only cared about the farm but his community with a determination to keep the town in its rural state.

"An older customer told me that grandpa was crying at a hearing as the state wanted to widen the roads (where Red Apple Farm is located)," said Al. "Grandpa was worried they were going to destroy the rural character of the road that is framed by old stone walls and stately maple trees. He got the state to halt the project in mid-construction."

A. Spaulding Rose, founder of Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Mass.
Carolyn and A. Spaulding Rose. Photo credit: Red Apple Farm.

Spaulding planted the master seed at Red Apple Farm and ensuing generations made sure it would grow with a love for the business, family togtherness and a respect to the environment. In addition to everything offered today at Red Apple Farm, the commitment to environmental integrity has become a major feature of the entire operation. First, Red Apple Farm harnesses the power of the sun and wind with 15 kw. turbine and 10 kw. solar panels that provides green energy to all the farm buildings.

Even with all the newest technology, Al likes to keep in mind the original creator.

"When you think of it, every leaf at a farm is a solar panel," said Al. "Even a wind turbine is energy from the sun."

Additionally, Red Apple Farm practices Integrated Pest Management (IPM) as a collaboration with the University of Massachusetts Cooperative Extension Mentor Farm. Following best modern day farming practices with a respect for the environment and people, IPM employs a low spray program focusing on a natural approach.

"It is always better collaborating," said Al. "One of the goals of success today is working with others. You can learn a lot and make a business better that way."

While the farm has transitioned into a major New England attraction, Al and Nancy have somehow kept the small mom and pop business vibe intact starting with a staff of employees that they regard as part of the family. Throughout the year, one hundred employees rotate working retail, 25 in agricultural, 25 at the Red Apple Farm at the Public Market in Boston and 45 at the Wachusett Mountain Ski Area in Princeton, Mass. (more on Boston Marketplace and Wachusett shortly).

"In 2001 when Nancy and I came to the farm, there were eight employees," said Al. "And half were family members! So, yes, we have grown. But mostly, people working here really enjoy being here. It's not just about the adults working here, either, it's about the kids working here, too. We have 14 and 15-year-old kids working here, greeting customers and thanking people for coming. They are a major part of our success."

Nancy added,"We have about 75 teenagers working here and we enjoy working with them. The majority of them like to be here. When you have a little faith in them, they prosper."

family of employees at Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Mass.
Family of employees. Photo credit: Juan Sebastian Palafox.

During this interview, in fact, an employee at the back of the office spontaneously screamed, "I LOVE THIS PLACE!"

The template of a love for the farm dates back to its inception in 1912, the same year that Fenway Park in Boston, Mass was built and L.L. Bean in Freeport, Maine opened for business. A. Spaulding Rose bought Red Apple Farm from Warren Tyler who was the President of Athol Savings Bank in nearby Athol, Mass. When Bill assumed the business many years later, he promised his dad that he would never sell the farm. He kept his word and proceeded to progress Red Apple Farm quite well, transforming the business in the 1980s from mostly a wholesale apple operation to a year-round, multi-faceted retail destination and community gathering place.

‘My grandfather always said he didn’t own the farm, he tended it for the next generation’ said Al. ‘My grandfather built this ship and brought it to a commercially success level. My dad steered that ship well but realized that we had to go retail. Times change and the transition was made as a means of how the farm could remain successful."

Vibrant, robust, clear-headed, humorous and strapping at 85-years old, Bill no longer lives at the farm, as he resides closeby over the border in rural New Hampshire. He still contributes to farm operations, feeling the passion for the business and its byproducts like hard cider and apple dumplings.

Bill Rose, past owner of Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Mass.
Bill enjoys an apple dumpling as a mid-morning snack.

He also has a way to cutting to the chase with highly accurate statements and perspectives.

"We have a food here that we can serve faster than McDonald's," said Bill. "It's called an apple!"

In retrospect, Bill had bridged a vital gap between his dad's starting the farm and Al's 21st century science, business and marketing acuity. Like Spaulding, Bill practiced good business habits to pave the way for the next generation to tend the farm. From knowing sustainable forestry to expanding a business, Bill has humbly done his job as a master of all trades everyday. One of his many significant accomplishments: Initiating the idea for the Country Barn to be built for weddings, dances and other community events. The barn was completed in 2007 under Al and Nancy's ownership of Red Apple Farm. It could said that handy Bill not only knew how to use a hammer during his tenure as owner of Red Apple Farm (he was involved in constructing the Country Barn), but also civilly lay the hammer down when seeking ways to improve the farm.

Today, Bill enjoys being a granddad, father, father-in-law and interacting with staff and visitors. And, of course, enjoying those apple dumplings and hard cider.

"It is true that hard cider has health benefits," said Bill. "Research says so. So I drink it... The apple dumplings, they are one of my favorites here. There's no way you can't like them!"

A Perspective on the Joy of Arriving at Red Apple Farm

Family of apples at Red Apple Farm in Phiilipston, Mass.

Family of apples at the family farm. Photo credit: Juan Sebastian Palafox.

The scene on a quiet late summer morning revealed a wonderful story of Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Mass.

This story could have stood on its own as a special traditional New England day to be forever remembered.  On the other hand, that one day memory would have been shortsighted. The ensuing chapters of Red Apple Farm through fall, winter, spring and summer lend further perspectives that could fill a whole book with happy memories.

The magic begins when driving down scenic, rural Highland Ave. Approaching Red Apple Farm, the sight of stone walls -- a common, often beloved historic New England sight -- serves as a first sign of the authentic and genuine experiences to follow. Right by a part of the stone wall resides the Red Apple Farm sign that proves that a silent, inanimate object can come alive as something friendly and welcoming. There's simply no way to drive past the weathered New England sign as the endless rural scenery down Highland Ave. can surely wait in lieu of anticipatory thoughts that there's probably something "so New England" leading from that sign to the farm.

Sign, stone wall at Red Apple Farm, Phiilpston, Mass.
Red Apple Farm sign.

Driving the dirt path toward the main Red Apple Farm building offers a New England scene that soon goes beyond the familiar. Apple trees in the late summer and fall give birth to healthy looking fruit that makes one want to stop the car and start picking. Then again, the main building in the background suggests to keep driving. Given the enormity of the fields at the farm and across the street, plenty of apples will remain as part of the overall visit. 

Apples with Red Apple farmstand in the background in Phillipston, Mass.
Farm stand behind apples at Red Apple Farm.

Pumpkins for sale, a pumpkin patch, an ancient carriage and fields of sunflowers further hint at a destination that meets the needs of a family outing. The thing is, however, that Red Apple Farm would never just stop at meeting someones' needs. That approach would be like just any other experience, after all.

A classic New England scene at Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Mass.
Bright orange pumpkins and a bit of history.

The next serving of this main course New England travel experience brings the visitor to the farmstand with its historic red-painted exterior, colorful flower beds, more pumpkins and an old Coca Cola freezer. It looks like the prototype for a country New England farmstand, but again there's certainly more than meets the eye when going beyond the front of the building and a wide side entrance that looks dark inside from a distance but full of endless bright moments upon entering and browsing.

Red Apple Farm farmstand, Phillipston, Mass.
Red Apple Farm farmstand.

Then, to see the country store in that old red building and all those New England food products, employess exhibiting the art of making and baking, the content farm animals, scenic rural vistas and so many happy faces... it's like finding the country version of Camelot. What a transcending moment in New England travel!

Apple fields at Red Apple Farm with views of Mt. Wachusett in Princeton, Mass.
Apple fields and a view of Mt. Wachusett.

"I like getting up early in the morning and hearing the symphony of birds," said Bill. "Some young people who work for Al have their music devices out there. I would rather listen to the birds  -- the songbirds early in the morning and then take a walk into the woods.  It's special here."

Red Apple Farm at The Boston Public Market and Wachusett Mountain Ski Area

Red Apple Farm has a permament station at the Boston Public Market in Boston, Mass.
Red Apple Farm at the Boston Public Market. Photo credit: Juan Sebastian Palafox.

As further indication of attaining the American Dream, Red Apple Farm has even expanded beyond its site in Phillipston.

They have a prominent presence in the Boston Public Market at 100 Hanover St. in Boston, operating a year-round stall. Red Apple Farm is one of 39 vendors at the country's only locally-sourced market. Red Apple sells many of its favorites here from the Phillipston farm including mini apple cider doughnuts and various farm fare.

"We took the farm to the city," said Bill. "And then we can get the city people to come to the farm. See? It's cross population!"

During ski season, Red Apple Farm sets up shop at the Bullock Lodge Cider House and The Core at Wachusett Mountain, a popular ski destination in nearby Princeton, Mass. At the Bullock Lodge Cider House located mid-mountain at the base of 10th Mountain trail, this original field stone ski lodge from the 1930s features freshly-made cider donuts, hot apple dumplings, fresh fudge, hot and cold cider, coffee and more. The Core, located in the base lodge across from the cafeteria, offers fresh fudge, made-on-the-spot popcorn, candy-by-the-cup and farm fare.

Red Apple Farm at Wachusett Mountain in Princeton, Mass.
Red Apple Farm at the Bullock Lodge, Wachusett Mountain Ski Area. Photo credit: Juan Sebastian Palafox.


Front porch rocking chairs at Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Mass.

Front porch rocking chairs at Red Apple Farm.

Sometimes the best New England destinations are in the least likely places. It is true testimony to the folks at Red Apple Farm how a simple concept has become such a beloved landmark in an area not located in the Boston area, Cape Cod or other heavily traveled areas. From giving back to the community to locals and visitors enjoying a day at the farm, it is heartwarming knowing this wonderful small business has positively affected millions of people since its start many generations ago.

Even during sad times.

"A lady from Acton (Mass.) was very emotional as her kids were off to college," said Al. "She came alone to Red Apple Farm for the memories but also as a place to feel good on that day. There are so many stories. We constantly hear about how much people love this place... Simply put, the value of your brand is goodwill. That's what we are all about here."

Bill echoes Al's words but with a John Denver song reference.

"Thank God I'm a country boy!" said Bill, acknowledging the virtues of enjoying country living, family, a family business and the visitors that have become part of the fabric making Red Apple Farm a most special New England destination.

Red Apple Farm is located at 455 Highland Ave. in Phillipston, MA. Tel. 978-249-6763.
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Bonus reading! A memoir from Carolyn Rose, wife of Red Apple Farm founder A. Spaulding Rose (located toward the bottom of page).

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>This family-owned and operated apple picking farm in north central Massachusetts is the gold standard in what people expect when visiting an apple farm.

>Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Mass., is a classic fourth-generation family farm with apple picking and other fruit picking, pumpkins, a seasonal brewery and festivals, a country store, apple cider, apple dumplings, apple cider slush, homemade fudge, fresh ground peanut butter and hard cider.

Looking to stay at a family-friendly lodge with an amazing indoor water park not too far from Red Apple Farm? Check out
Great Wolf Lodge New England in Fitchburg.

More local small business reading:
Thornes Marketplace in Northampton, Mass., brings life back to Main Street USA

Taking the road less traveled to a unique market and cafe in North Amherst, Mass.
Finding a dining gem in Worcester's Canal District

Interested in your local business becoming part of our New England community?
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