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Tom's is an apple orchard to the core.

Byline: Randi Bjornstad The Register-Guard

At Tom's Orchard, you can buy apples, more apples, or apples made into cider.

That's all Tom and Donna Armstrong do - grow and pick and sell 60 different varieties of apples. Lots of other produce stands sell apples, too, of course, but most also offer other edibles - at this time of year, that means fall vegetables and fruits, nuts, sometimes even jam, jelly and honey.

But not at Tom's.

"We used to have a little of everything, but we decided in 1996 to grow only apples," says Tom Armstrong, who has been farming on East Beacon Drive in the Santa Clara community for more than 40 years. "We started with four acres and since then have added six more. There are other apple growers around here, but as a strictly family operation with as many types as we have, we're a little unusual."

His customers relish the variety, and some come several times a week to replenish their supply.

Amber Riggs and her husband, Bryan, live a few blocks from Tom's Orchard and stop by at least twice a week.

"We're pretty pathetic - we each eat about three apples a day, and then we make a lot of apple crisp," Amber Riggs says. "We come on Monday to stock up for the week, and then we come again on Friday to stock up for the weekend. Even our dog likes apples."

They especially like the Cameo variety, but often nibble other choices at the tasting table that Donna Armstrong keeps stocked with samples of currently available varieties.

Right now, that includes Spitzenberg - Thomas Jefferson's favorite apple, Tom Armstrong says - as well as Autumn, Arlet and more familiar names such as Braeburn, Fuji and red and gold Delicious.

The season at Tom's Orchard starts in July with early apples such as Pristine. It lasts through November, when late varieties such as Pink Lady close out the season. Early apples tend to be more tart, later ones more sweet, Armstrong says.

Four-year-old Tia Treder and her sister, Maya - "I'm 2 1/2 ," she insists, holding up three fingers - stop by the orchard with their mother every Monday for a few boxes of apples.

"The kids love apple pies - we make them a lot," Eiko Treder says. This week, the sweet-tart - and historical - Spitzenberg got the nod.

Much as he enjoys tending his orchard and stocking the fruit stand - "We don't do a song and dance, no advertising; the apples sell themselves," he says - Tom Armstrong looks forward to the respite of winter.

He and Donna routinely put in 14-hour days during the season. They live simply in a neat farmhouse on their land, tending their 1,500 trees with the help of their son, Jon, a student at the University of Oregon who doesn't plan to follow in his parents' footsteps.

"I'm worried about the future for small local farms like this," Tom Armstrong says as he watches customers happily making their selections. "It's so rewarding, but you have to really love it - you can't do it for money. And I don't see many people coming along to keep it going."

WHERE TO BUY FALL PRODUCE

Some area produce stands have closed for the winter, but a few plan to be open for the next few weeks. Here's a sampling:

Detering's: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Christmas, 39046 Wyatt Drive south of Harrisburg off Coburg Road; apples and cider (through November); pears, melons, vegetables, nuts, jam, jelly and honey.

Farmer's Market: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays through Nov. 15, Eighth Avenue and and Oak Street in downtown Eugene; vegetables, fruits, plants and flowers. Closed Tuesdays for the season.

Hentze Produce: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Nov. 30, 30065 Hentze Lane, Junction City; apples, peaches, pears, nuts, vegetables, frozen berries, pumpkins.

Herrick Farms: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, through mid-December, four miles east of Springfield on Highway 126; apples and cider, squash, filberts, other fall vegetables.

Johnson's: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Nov. 18, closed Sundays, 89733 Armitage Road, off North Game Farm Road; apples, peaches, winter squash, other fall vegetables, nuts, jam, jelly.

Tom's Orchard: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday through Monday; 909 E. Beacon Drive, off River Road north of Eugene; apples and cider.

CAPTION(S):

Tom Armstrong puts in 14-hour days along with his wife, Donna, at their orchard, where several dozen kinds of apples are grown.
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Title Annotation:The Santa Clara grower has 1,500 trees, several varieties and loyal customers; Agriculture
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 5, 2003
Words:758
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