Story and photos by Kaitlin Hill
As leaves change and temperatures chill, autumn activities in Virginia beckon. Small towns turn out for fall festivals, farmers’ markets pile up pumpkins for purchase, cider is served hot, and flannel is back in fashion. In quaint Markham, families, friends, couples and harvest hobbyists come from all over to pick apples, buy pies and relax at scenic Stribling Orchard.
With postcard-worthy rolling hills neatly lined with a staggering 2,500 apple trees, a seemingly limitless selection of homemade provisions in the Harvest House and live music, Stribling is a playground for young, old, and everyone in between.
Like many of Virginia’s sprawling sites, the orchard’s history and apple tree roots date back to the 1700s. The land was part of the 1733 William Burgess land grant, leased to William Marshall in 1765, and apparently always had apples.
Today, orchard owner Rob Stribling and his wife, Stacia, run the family business. He took over the business 11 years ago and they continue to keep it all in the greater Stribling family, including a few “adoptees.” “As far as we know, there have always been apple trees here. The original land grants from Lord Fairfax included 100 apple trees, so many swine, and so forth.”
Half a century later in 1819, Stribling’s great-great-great grandfather, Dr. Robert Stribling, purchased the 93-acre Mountain View property, and it has remained in the family ever since. Over the next 200 years and with each new generation, the property has been updated and repurposed without losing sight of family traditions and historic charm.
Under the charge of Stribling’s great-grandfather, the site would become an apple export business. Stribling says, “It wasn’t until my great-grandfather that they started to really ship overseas. A lot of the apples from here went to England.” After World War II, the family had to rethink the property’s purpose. For a few years, the land sat largely untouched, until Stribling’s great-grandfather, William Clarkson Stribling, had an idea. “My great-grandfather said, ‘let’s just open it up to the public.’ And so, he is still credited with the ‘pick-your-own’ thing, around here at least.”
Their “pick-your-own” concept started small but has expanded with each generation. Stribling remembers in the beginning, “We would have maybe like 30 cars a day.” However, when Stribling’s grandmother, Mildred, became boss, the business started to blossom. He says, “My grandmother, in particular, said, ‘we are going to redo everything.’” Buildings were upgraded or added, like the Harvest House in 1990, sales were streamlined, and baked goods became part of the orchard’s offerings.
Increasing popularity required full family, and often community participation. Everyone chipped in. Stribling’s grandparents replanted the orchard. His parents lived on-site and baked the famous and in-demand bread. Even at a young age, Stribling and his siblings worked alongside their relatives. “It was our job as kids to face the crowds and run the bread out to the building, but it was usually sold before we reached the fence.” He says with a smile, “We could only make about ten loaves an hour back then.”
The Striblings hire local high school students seasonally to staff the registers and help in the bakery. Beth Pinner, a lifelong family friend, is co-manager. Nancy Sickel, the first to arrive and last to leave, runs the high-volume bakery, and she has worked with three generations of Striblings.
Stribling admits, it’s only, “with lots of help from family and friends, my siblings and their significant others, their neighbors, churchgoers, their friends, who have become our friends, that we are able to pull together every September or late August and run through early November.”
Though there are familiar faces and adherence to ancestral traditions, the business has undoubtedly changed. Perhaps the most obvious difference in recent years can be described generally as volume and variety.
They still sell their famous bread but on a much larger scale alongside new menu items. The bakery that once produced 10 loaves of bread an hour now sells upward of 2,000 donuts in a single day. Sweet seekers travel from far and wide to buy the Apple Raisin Swirl Bread, which is freshly baked and swirled with cinnamon and something similar to apple pie filling. They are known for their pies, too, like the fresh apple pies with classic double crust, Grandma Mildred’s recipe, and an updated and equally delicious crumb-top version. In the Harvest House, there is a dizzying array of jarred delights, including every fruit butter flavor you can imagine, that fills the shelves and then quickly disappears.
As for the apple picking, there is no shortage of selection there, either. Some of the trees date back to the 1930s, but others have been replaced and replanted over time. Pickers puttering through row after row can find everyday apples like Honeycrisp, McIntosh, Fuji and Granny Smith but will likely come across something new. The Striblings also row Lodi, Tydeman Red, Ginger Gold and Cortland, to name a few.
New and old seems to describe the guests that visit Stribling Orchard, as well. “We have people who have been coming for 60 years. One gentleman brings his whole family, including his great-grandchildren, and they just spend the whole day out here.” Stacia adds, “We call them our ‘legacy families.’”
Though, perhaps the title of “legacy family” is more fitting for the Striblings themselves. Rob and Stacia work tirelessly to carry on the nearly 200-year-old tradition of excellent customer service, exquisite baked goods and an emphasis on family fun, creating an experience that is so much more than apple picking.
As Stacia puts it, “The reason we do it is, it is tradition for families. They come out, make memories, spend time together, be outdoors. We need more of that in this world. We need people to unplug and connect with others. That what’s most important to us.”
For more information on hours, tours or directions, visit striblingorchard.com.
This article first appeared in the November 2018 issue of Middleburg Life.