Alyssa Marchant and Jake Dube, of Portland, hope to have a pick-your-own operation up and running at the Moulton Orchard in Standish in about two years. Courtesy of Alyssa Marchant

STANDISH — When Alyssa Marchant, 24, and Jake Dube, 27, first started looking to buy farmland, they said they never dreamed of taking over a 99-acre apple orchard like the historic Moulton family orchard.

“We both just fell in love with the idea of farming and … we both think it’s really important for our generation to get into that,” Marchant said. “And then we saw the property and fell in love.”

Alyssa Marchant works to clear overgrowth from the orchard. Courtesy of Alyssa Marchant

Now the new owners, the Portland couple is working to rejuvenate the orchard, which hasn’t been in active use since 2007. They hope to have it up and running as a pick-your-own operation in about two years. Because they’re running the farm as an organic operation, it takes more time than usual to “pass a viable apple,” but Dube said all the work “is worth it.”

Marchant and Dube both work full time but said: “Every minute that we’re not working, we’re at the farm.”

They are now working on clearing the overgrowth and pruning the trees. Marchant is a store manager for AT&T and Dube works for the city of Portland at the Oxford Street Shelter.

“We had no prior farming experience or experience with apples … This year was kind of a learning process with the pruning process,” Marchant said.

The Moulton family has owned the orchard on Route 35 for over 200 years, Greg Moulton said. His grandfather Simon Moulton began the orchard operation in the 1940s. Following Simon’s death, the orchard passed on to his wife, Rachel, and their son, Willard, the father of Greg and his three siblings.

Over the decades, the Moulton family ran the orchard for commercial harvest and had a popular farm stand in front of their house across the street, where Greg and his wife, Erica, still live. He said that back in the day, the orchard employed many people from the area during the harvest season and was a fixture of the community.

Jake Dube checks on an apple tree at Moulton Orchards. Courtesy of Alyssa Marchant

But over time, the farm slowly fell into disuse. When Willard passed away in 2016, Greg’s brother Peter inherited the 1,000-tree orchard and decided to sell it.

Peter and his wife, Susan Cottle, who live in South China, considered running the orchard in their retirement, but realized that wasn’t realistic for them. Instead, they worked with the Maine Farmland Trust, to put a permanent easement on the property that required the land be used for agricultural purposes.

“My big concern was that I didn’t want the land to be turned into house lots,” Peter Moulton said.

The non-profit trust organization protects farmland and supports farmers and farming innovation. Charlie Baldwin, the farmland protection project manager who facilitated the easement and the transfer of Moulton property, said the trust has completed easements on 21 orchards since its establishment in 1999.

Baldwin said that although there has been greater interest in cidery recently, Maine now has “a remnant orchard population” compared to the turn of the 20th century, when he said the state was the cider capital of the world.

“I hope they can bring the orchard back. It’s a tough job and they seem, in addition to being so enthusiastic, they do seem to realize it’s going to be a tough job and that’s one of the reasons we felt comfortable with Alyssa and Jake,”  Peter Moulton said.

“It means a lot to so many people. You can’t even imagine how many people have called us and stopped by and (told us of) memories of growing up and going (to the orchard),” Marchant said.

“It’s an honor to be able to sort of take on this not only for ourselves, but for our community,” added Dube.

They both said that Greg and Erica Moulton, who live have been “so supportive.”

“We just fell in love with the family and their history of the orchard,” Alyssa said. “They’re like family to us.”

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