On The Road At Downing Fruit Farm

This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to take a drive to New Madison, Ohio and find the home of Miami University’s locally grown apples and pumpkins, Downing Fruit Farm (photo gallery below).

Downing Fruit Farm has been discussed on this blog before. The family-owned farm has been around since 1838, located in the village of New Madison, Ohio. According to Google Maps, the fruit farm is right around an hour from the Demske Culinary Support Center, just over 40 miles north of Oxford in Darke County.

The farm is, as you might expect, in the middle of farm country. The roads leading out there are winding, the fields are rolling and the people are scarce. As I made the final turn, the road dipped and bent one more time and the GPS – rather abruptly – announced, “You have arrived at your destination.” All that was before me was the road that extended further beyond, and a small mailbox on the side of the road. To my right was a quaint little farmhouse. There isn’t any sign or billboard, just a gravel path.

A drive leads up towards the central barn/shop/storage area and wraps around, providing parking and a glimpse at the different structures found on the farm that were initially hidden from the road. Families, both old and young, bustle about the space, the bright orange of the pumpkins scattered around the barn reflect the bright autumn sun while the trees provide a picturesque scene of a beautiful, natural farm. The entire setting reflects a level of authenticity that, for some reason, I didn’t really expect.

“Around 30 years ago, most of the business was done at the farm,” says Scott Downing, a seventh generation Downing who currently owns and maintains the farm. “I’d say about 75% of sales were made at the farm. Now, it’s closer to 25%. You just don’t get the Sunday drives like you used to have.”

My Sunday drive was eye-opening. While people love and embrace the concept of “local”, we sometimes lose touch with what that really means. The pumpkin on campus, used in the pumpkin smoothies and milkshakes – or even the locally grown apple available on campus – is grown and sold at a family farm only an hour from Oxford. A lot of hard work and time goes into ensuring the quality of their food. In addition to the work they put into preparing their products, the Downing family also creates other opportunities to reach out to new audiences by frequenting local markets like Oxford’s farmer’s market on Saturdays.

“Going to Miami… going to the market down there. We do fantastic down in Oxford at the market,” says Downing, who travels to various markets throughout Western Ohio during the week, selling his local fruits, vegetables and apple products, including apple cider that was once voted the Best Cider in the country.

At the farm, there is a definite homely feel between the natural, fresh products, the setting and people there. There are families with young children who are taking horse drawn wagon rides through the orchard or getting their face painted and older families with teenagers who have been to the farm every year since they were the ones with the smiling pumpkin painted on their cheek.

The central barn area acts as a family store and is stocked with apples and apple products, which make up nearly 70% of the Downing’s sales. A table in the back sells hot dogs and iced apple cider. The walls are lined with a variety of items, ranging from the familiar apple butter or cider to different jars of preservatives made from their own fruit or their very own fresh pumpkin butter. The quality and freshness of the products available are on display as visitors pick up entire bags of apples, pumpkins and a gallon of apple cider.

“We raise the highest quality of whatever we do, whether it is peaches, plums, apples or pumpkins,” says Downing, “It’s pretty satisfying to know that people appreciate and enjoy the taste and quality of our products.”

Downing can be found at the Oxford farmer’s market on Saturdays uptown, selling apples, etc. His products can also be found on campus in the form of the local pumpkin smoothies, available at King Cafe, Bell Tower and Miami Ice, and the pumpkin milkshakes available at Encounter. The Moon Co-Op, located near T.J. Maxx, also sells Downing Fruit Farm products.

They weren’t using the machine below while I was there, but let’s face it… it looks really cool.

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Apple season in Ohio. #jonagold

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