Tom's Orchard is a family business that specializes in growing and selling just one crop: apples, and lots of 'em. Tom and Donna Armstrong, a friendly and completely charming couple just past retirement age, have been selling apples from the shed behind their house for many years. They've continued to experiment with different varieties to see what grows well in the local climate; at the moment there are 61 different varieties of apples offered over a single season, which runs from early August to mid-November.
Sure, you can get your garden-variety Granny Smiths and Red Delicious here (was there ever a more misleading variety name? Red it may be, but Delicious it ain't), but why? The tasting table is your friend; Tom and Donna have helpfully arranged the ripe varieties in a staggered array from sweet to tart, and you can taste them all in season: orange-and-red Spitzenbergs; huge, green, water-cored Kings; pink-and-white fleshed Pink Pearls; Northern Spys (good for pies); full-flavored Gravensteins; and petite, blushing, bright yellow earthen-tart Pristines that only last a week or so in late summer. For my money, though, the best eating apple the Armstrongs grow is the Honeycrisp -- bright green with reddish-orange stripes, firm-fleshed, juicy, sweet but not cloying, and beautifully crisp. If you're lucky enough to find Honeycrisp apples at the supermarket, they will cost you around $3 per pound. Or you can just go to Tom's Orchard and get them for 85 cents.
The Armstrongs are about the nicest people you'd ever hope to meet. Most days, Tom wanders around the place in his denim overalls, putting out new boxes of apples, and Donna operates the cash register and replenishes the tasting table. They're gently outgoing folks, and it's easy to start up a conversation. They're also good neighbors -- one day, when I had no cash and had forgotten my checkbook, Donna graciously let me write an IOU for the apples and quart of cider I'd picked up. "Just bring the money the next time you come by," she smiled, waving away my apologies. (I did, later that day.)
It's not all Eden in this apple orchard. I've had a chance to talk to the Armstrongs more than once, so I know this wonderful little business won't last forever. As mentioned, both Tom and Donna Armstrong are past retirement age. They're healthy, and they still enjoy what they do, but they spend long hours of hard work in growing and picking apples and making cider, and they're starting to feel it. Every season they consider closing down the business for good. None of the Armstrong children have indicated a desire to take over from their parents, so when Tom and Donna decide they've sold their final bushel of apples, that'll be it. Every August I wonder whether the handmade sign pointing the way to Tom's Orchard will appear, and every August so far I've breathed a sigh of relief when it's placed by the roadside. I know that some day, much like the realms of Faerie in the old stories, Tom's Orchard will simply disappear into the thick morning fog of the Willamette Valley, never to be seen again by mortal men.
Selfishly, I hope I won't see that day come any time soon.