If you’re a sucker for all things fall—the pumpkins, the apples, the cider and the old-timey harvest culture, then you’re probably geeking out right about now. The leaves are turning, the nights are crisping, and local farms are opening up for all sorts of food-tastic fall events. As an avid autumn lover myself, I’ve been pumpkin picking for years now, but I’d never been apple picking from an actual orchard until this month. As an Angelino, we sometimes think that there’s nothing sacred here in the Los Angeles area—you have to drive at least a few hours out of the city to get to something with history and depth, right? Not exactly. When it comes to apple picking, there’s a region just 90 minutes outside of LA called Oak Glen, with an entire heritage of family-based apple farmers dating back to the mid-1800s. Intrigued? So was I.
Oak Glen is just about 90 minutes outside of the city, but drive northeast on the 10 long enough, and the smoggy, hazy skies open up to clean, mountainous air full of greenery and open roads. It’s lovely. Once you get to Oak Glen, a pocket of orchard farmers, you forget where you’ve just come from altogether.
Oak Glen is comprised almost entirely of farms and orchards named Riley, because it’s the Riley family that planted roots in this area over 100 years ago, and it’s the same family that’s spawned off to create various farms of fruits, vegetables and local history-based tourism. There’s Riley’s Farm, Riley’s at Los Rios, Riley’s Apple Farm… you get the picture. These stand-alone orchards and farms speckle the same highway off of the 10 in Oak Glen, spanning across a two- or three-mile stretch of old highway road. It feels almost like a small wine trail to be there, popping in and out of the car to taste what each has along the way.
But my mission was apple picking. And while I couldn’t find any of the Rileys offering up organic apples, I was recommended to try Riley Farm, and it’s known to be one of the oldest orchards in Oak Glen, and one having the most authentic, family farm feel. And what a fantastic recommendation this was.
Riley’s farm has 55 acres devoted to the public on their land, and while it’s full of apple trees left and right, it’s also devoted to the history of the land, the people and the American Revolution. Originally homesteaded in the 1880s, Riley’s Farm is actually a living piece of time captured on the land: There are standing farm houses, cider pressers, butter churners, cornmeal grinders and tool sheds galore on the property. Mind you, none of these buildings or tools is staged or just for show; they are indeed actual, working artifacts from the 1800s that are still utilized regularly on the farm. It’s quite a marvel.
Riley’s Farm is still owned and operated by the extended Riley Family, and family members were on staff the day I visited. Lovely people, welcoming demeanor and extremely eager to accommodate the visitors. I was delighted to bring them my business, no matter how small.
The apples, you wonder? How were the apples? See the photos below for a glimpse. The orchard was visually stunning, gorgeous, like a scene captured from Gone with the Wind or Grapes of Wrath. I couldn’t over-romanticize this place if I tried; it was magical. Apple trees surrounded by roosters running wild, damp cotton linens hang-drying on clothes wires, snow-capped mountains looming in the background and a smog-free sky brimming in ample golden sunlight.
Apple picking? Yes, Riley’s Farm is a prime place for Angelinos to pick fresh apples from the branch in an orchard that’s been owned and operated by the same family for over 100 years. But what I took away from Riley’s Farm was far more than just a three-pound bag of apples. I left filled with a renewed sense of awe in our history, in this country’s land and in the power of preservation. And oh yes, lungs full of fresh air.
All Images: Kimberley Stakal