Orchard Observations: Through the years

May-3-Orchard-Observations-SBy Megan Humphrey, Shelburne Orchards

Not many of us work with the same person for the majority of our careers – but that is exactly happened at Shelburne Orchards. Recently, I realized that Nick Cowles and Terry Hotaling have been in a working relationship for longer than any other relationship in their lives. I am honoring their friendship by taking a look back at their time together.
Terry was working his way up the Hudson River in the 1970s, pruning apple trees as part of a crew at various orchards. The final stop each year was at Shelburne Orchards, where Nick had just taken over ownership from his father.

His first memory of Nick is vivid. Nick was sitting in a multicolored Volkswagen Bug, the rainbow from various pieces and parts that had been replaced. He was wearing blue overalls and a tweed jacket that was way too short in the sleeves. Nick’s first impression of Terry was that he was “scrappy, lean, redneck-ish, and he looked like he probably could take me,” Nick recalls – but he liked him.

Terry decided that he had had enough of the wanderlust life and wanted to settle down. They sat down over a glass of wine, and Nick hired him on the spot to prune during the winter (around 1967 or 1977, they debate). Terry’s part-time work eventually turned into year-round employment.

So, how have they worked together for so long? Nick explains that they don’t have to talk about very much. Terry says, “Nick has a priority list of things that need to get done every season, and he lets me just go and do them.” According to Nick, their biggest difference in working style is that Terry likes to have a list. “I just start the tractor and then decide where I’m going,” Nick shares.

“Nick uses one side of the brain and I use the other,” Terry explains. “[He] always has a funny story to tell.” They both love the cycle of seasons in a beautiful corner of the world; and Nick comments, “A huge part of loving my job is working with Terry.”

I asked them to name each other’s favorite color, middle name, and three things he’d desire if stranded on a desert island.  Nick said Terry’s favorite color is green, his middle name is Tyler, and the three things would be “Megan, a boat, and a liverwurst sandwich.” Terry decided that Nick’s favorite color is burnt umber, middle name is Zenas, and he’d want “a mandolin, extra mandolin strings, and his favorite dog.” They both got each other’s favorite color and middle name correct.  In response to the desert island query, Terry said, “Megan, a boat, and a tarp,” so Nick was close. Nick explained that he’d want “brandy, a beautiful woman, and a hotel room.”  Oh well, Terry. Not so close on that one.

I asked each of them the funniest memory about the other. They had a litany of hysterical stories of all sorts of things that have happened over the years, but I can’t print any of them in this family-friendly newspaper. Instead, Nick told the story of Terry’s living arrangements that first winter. Along with his dog, Sapphire, Terry slept in an old Cadillac hearse that had been converted into a camper, a car owned by Nick’s sister, Cedar. It had a gas heater and was parked between two oak trees. A cord for electricity ran from the camper into the office so Terry could leave meals stewing in a crockpot during the day.

On any farm, there are lots of issues to resolve, and it’s helpful to have complementary problem-solving techniques. When the International tractor caught fire and needed to be completely rewired, they figured it out together – as in so many other situations when they were stumped. “Either one of us can do any of the jobs at the orchard,” Nick informs. “There’s nothing we can’t accomplish between the two of us.”

Nick and Terry trust each other, respect each other’s competence, have the same passion for farming and a common goal of the apple harvest every year, an appreciation of one of the most beautiful places in the world, and sprinkle everything with a sense of humor. Cheers to their 37 (or 38) years of working and laughing together!

Nick and Terry can often be found “holding court” at lunchtime on the porch at the Old Brick Store, waxing poetic about life, harassing customers, or pretending that they’re pig farmers. Please be sure to stop and say, “Hello!”