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The Accidental Apple Orchard: A Story about Fashion and Jam

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Today: When Laura Ferrara and Fabio Chizzola bought a house in upstate New York, they became apple farmers against all odds, and Westwind Orchard was born.

Laura Ferrara at Westwind Orchard   The barn at Westwind Orchard
Left: Laura in her garden. Right: The barn at Westwind Orchard.

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It was the trees' striking resemblance to an olive grove that convinced Laura Ferrara and her husband Fabio Chizzola to purchase a weekend home and orchard in upstate New York almost fifteen years ago. Laura remembered, "When we saw the property, the trees were in bloom and everything was so overgrown that it was almost like a fairytale." As Italian-Americans, Laura and Fabio felt nostalgic towards the trees, which reminded Fabio of his family's summer home outside of Rome and Laura of her parent's hometown in Campania. It wasn't until the couple moved in with their two-year-old son that they realized their mistake, as pointed out by the area's local farmers: "Turns out they were heirloom apple trees—we had no idea," Laura said, laughing.

Almost overnight, Laura and Fabio who were based Manhattan, where they still work as a stylist and photographer, respectively earned new titles as apple farmers. Well, almost: The community of farmers in their town of Accord, New York warned the couple that the trees were too old to bear fruit. "We were told that we were better off cutting them all down," Laura said. However, she and Fabio couldn't stand the idea of cutting down trees that had been planted almost fifty years before. "To see things as so disposable," she told me, "and a tree that's so majestic with so much history be cut down—we couldn't do it. We wanted to live with these trees no matter what."

Fabio spent the next winter teaching himself about farming. "He just read up on pruning and said I’m going to try to do this," she paused, "We have 500 trees."

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More: If you ever find yourself with an apple orchard—or a bag of apples, may we suggest this apple cider pie?

Apple Pie   Laura Ferrara and Fabio Chizzola
Left: One of our favorite pies on the site, made with apple cider. Right: Fabio and Laura in Accord, NY.

The next year, against all odds, with the help of Fabio's newfound area of expertise and with the encouragement of his friend Mike, a local pomologist, the apples bore fruit. "We didnt think anything of it," Laura remembered. Then, after a few years, Fabio planted blackberries and raspberries. "I kept asking him, 'Why are you doing this?' And he said, we have this land so I just want to try it." As the apples and berries flourished, Laura spent her weekends picking apples and making the berries into a jam from a recipe from Fabio's mother. "I just [make] it the way I like," she told me, "which is really smooth and not gelatinous. It's mostly just berries and lemon." She began selling her goods on a table by the side of the road everyday between her commutes into the city for Fashion Week and editorial photoshoots.

From there, the business side of Westwind Orchard (the family repurposed the farm's original name) developed organically. Fabio's mother came in from Rome to help Laura create the jams. And the next year, when the apples had a generous crop, the family opened up the farm to the public as "You-Pick" apples. Last year, Westwind Orchard became a Certified Organic farm.

The Westwind Orchard Collection
The Breakfast Set from Westwind Orchard has all of the makings of a perfect breakfast in bed (and let's not forget about Mother's Day!).

Today, the family, with their son Matteo who is now fifteen, make honey, vinegars, and maple syrup, among other products sourced from their farm. This season, they created two exclusive sets for the Food52 Shop including a Breakfast Set with honey, maple syrup, and raspberry jam and a Complete Orchard Set which has honey and raspberry cider vinegars in addition to the breakfast items.

One of Laura's favorite products is the raw honey, which her husband collects from the bees that forage the farm's apple and squash blossoms. She told me, "I love to take a piece of homemade bread, which Fabio makes, with a soft cheese like mascarpone and a little bit of our honey with our berries on top." She occasionally switches out the honey for her mother-in-law's raspberry jam (marmellata di lamponi in Italian) made from just three ingredients: handpicked organic raspberries, lemon, and sugar. (When Amanda Hesser tasted this jam, she called it the best she had ever had—it's that good.)

Fabio Collects Honey from Westwind Orchard   Tractor at Westwind Orchard
Left: Fabio harvests raw honey for the Breakfast Set and Complete Orchard Set. Right: The family's dog sits underneath one of the farm's 500 apple trees.

For breakfast, Laura pairs the bread with tea sweetened with maple syrup. "I know it’s so luxurious but it’s so good," she told me, "I just use a tiny, little bit and it’s kind of heavenly." The maple syrup, which is sourced from 100-year-old silver, red, and sugar maple trees from both the Westwind property and along the Hudson Valley, is wood-fired by Fabio and Laura to reduce and bottle. 

The vinegar, on the other hand, is good enough to drink by itself—she simply dilutes it with sparking water. "It's so delicious and so great for your body and the balance of your system," she said. Of course, it's also delicious in salads, but Laura prefers it alone, "I like the simplicity of it because it's a luxury to have something that's truly grown and bottled by hand, with nothing else added to it; it's just fermented."

   Complete Orchard Collection
The exclusive Complete Orchard Set for Food52 has everything you need to create the perfect breakfast.

In a way, this is how Westwind Orchard came to fruition. After Laura and Fabio moved to the farm, the pieces came together naturally. "It seemed crazy at the time because it was like, How did we end up here?," Laura said, "But it somehow makes sense now; it all happened for a reason."

Just before Laura hung up, rushing to a fashion styling project in Los Angeles, she added, "I think everyone is trying to make a difference, and then when it happens that you and your community find a like-mindedness, you grow together. It's quite an incredible feeling."

Photos of Laura, Fabio, and Westwind Orchard provided by Laura Ferrara; all others by Mark Weinberg

Tags: laura ferrara, fabio chizzola, westwind orchard, apples, farming, farms