Apple Gala & Cider Fest

Best time to go: 08/31 - 09/29

There is something distinctly American about the humble apple. For this reason alone, it seems fitting that an apple festival has become such a large part of the cultural landscape in our nation’s capitol.

Start at Bluemont Vineyard

But before jumping into the apple festival, be sure to tour Bluemont Vineyard (directly across the street). You can take the free haywagon shuttle from GCF, but they’ll only take you to the apple orchards at the bottom of the hill.

The top of Bluemont Vineyard offers sweeping vistas of the surrounding countryside. They also offer a number of cheese-themed meals and good-enough wine. People come here mostly for the views, though, which are truly astonishing. And if you have 50c, you can catch a preview of the GCF fun through their mounted field-scope.

Virginia’s Apple-Picking Tradition

Once you’re ready to move on, drive down the hill and park across the street at Great Country Farms. The giant cow in front of the ticket area lets your kids know that they’re about to have some serious fun.

Great Country Farms is probably the most authentic of the amusement farms that dot the region, and with its ample shade, it is the best place to go in September, when it still feels like summer around here.

GCF is also more connected with the agrarian history of the area than the other amusement farms. Many of Virginia’s founding fathers planted apples, including George Washington. In 19th Century folklore, the apples in Washington’s orchard even become a symbol of the prosperity and generosity of early America. [1]

This legend has at least some historical grounding: as the Revolution drew near, George Washington switched out his crops from tobacco to foodstuffs to reduce Mount Vernon’s dependence on English trade. [2]

GCF: agrarian amusement park

As at Mount Vernon, Apple sales provide some diversification (if not total independence) from Great Country Farm’s primary cash crop, which is undoubtably local tourists.

There are also a number of kid-pleasers that are purely for fun, such as the pumpkin-crushing dinosaur:

Also amusing for kids dads are the three pumpkin cannons. Just follow the strange noises through the woods until you come to the ordinance zone. Cannonball sized gourds can be purchased for $1 each, and then you are free to fire them at the boat in the junkyard range.

The pumpkin canons are fricken’ awesome.

It is, if nothing else, a wholesome way to spend a fall afternoon. And when you’re done with the amusements, you can wander over to the pick-your-own orchard and choose from many varieties.

Johnny Appleseed would be right at home

Known to American schoolchildren as Johnny Appleseed, John Chapman was an American “Saint Francis” who loved talking to animals. [3] Great Country Farms honors that tradition with a small number of goats, sheep and ducks, all of whom are friendly to anyone who will give them the time of day (or a handful of feed).

His eccentricities aside, Chapman was best known for the speed with which he worked his way across our continent planting seeds. And although Virginia is no longer a frontier (to anything but suburban sprawl) kids will enjoy the frontier-themed adventure area, which includes gem mining and rope swings.

And, of course, pig racing!

Appleseed’s motives may not have been entirely altruistic. At that time “an orchard could stand as a legal prerequisite to a claim.” [4] But reimagining Johnny Appleseed as a shrewd land baron misses the point. Appleseed’s story is not the story of John Chapman, it is the story of the American agrarian spirit and its embodiment in the land.

What is the price of admission at Great Country Farms?

Weekday Admission is $8 per child & $10 per Adult
Saturday & Sunday Admission is $10/child & $12/adult

I try not to think too hard about the astonishing rate at which Great Country Farms is printing money at this ersatz farm. A day here should not be about them. It should be about you, and your family, and the wholesome fun that was to be had before the iPad was invented.

Explore more:

  1. Frost, J. George Washington, The Apples, and the Tree, Norskog Publishing, 2014.
  2. Lengel, Edward G. First Entrepreneur: How George Washington Built His – and the Nation’s – Prosperity. Da Capo Press, 2016.
  3. Botkin, B. A. A Treasury of American Folklore. H. Wolff, 1944.
  4. Kramer, Frank R. John Chapman. American National Biography, 1999, pp. 705–06.

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