Lee’s Orchard sits about 10 miles east of Shenandoah National Park in Rappahannock County, surrounded by beautiful vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The apple orchard is undoubtedly intertwined with the history of the community – it’s been in Bryant Lee’s family for 5 generations.
While the picturesque landscape has remained largely intact since the farm was established over 200 years ago, changes in the apple industry have forced Bryant Lee to modify his business model. In 1980, he had over 160 acres of apples and was shipping them up and down the east coast, but competition from the global apple market, along with shifts in consumer preferences, made Lee focus on what sets his apples apart – taste.
“People have grown accustomed to the perfectly shaped, shiny apples you can get year round in the grocery store,” explains Lee with a smile. “If people did a side by side comparison they’d probably choose the shiny one, but once they taste the fresh apples, they change their minds real quick.”
On 14 acres, visitors have the choice of 18 distinct apple varieties, which they can pick themselves or grab from the huge crates in the barn. The orchard has familiar apples like the Golden Delicious and hard-to-find historic apples such as the Albemarle Pippin (a favorite of Thomas Jefferson’s) and the Rambo (brought over from Sweden in the 1600s). “I encourage people to try them all, because how else are they gonna find out what they like? Part of the reason they come out here is for the experience.”
It’s clear that Lee knows a lot about growing apples, but it all comes back to the customer when you ask him what he likes most about running the orchard. “I like talking with the people,” he explains, “seeing families enjoy the beauty of this area makes me happy.”