You might think we gravitate to Macintosh or Red Delicious apples, but according to Kirk Kemp, Canada’s top selling apple is the Gala. In fact, Kemp sells about 15 million pounds of Gala apples each year.
Kirk Kemp is a third-generation apple farmer and the brains behind the 1,400 acres of apple trees at Algoma Orchards in Clarington, Ontario. With more than a million apple trees producing a dozen different varieties – including MacIntosh, Empire, Cortland, Honey Crisp and, of course, Gala – it’s no wonder Algoma Orchards is the country’s largest apple grower and packer.
“My family have been apple farmers since the early 1900s,” says Kemp. “20 years ago, Mike Gibson and I came together with another business partner to create Algoma, combining our family farms.”
Even though Kemp and Gibson aren’t blood relatives, Algoma is truly a family business, with both of Kemp’s sons, Eric and Byron, involved in the business. Eric manages the packaging plant and Byron helps manage the farm.
It’s also a business that is growing fast. Planting over 100 acres of new apple trees each year, Algoma is able to supply fresh, local apples year-round. Currently, they can supply local apples 85 per cent of the year, supplementing the rest from the southern hemisphere once they run out.
“We’ve been working with Loblaws for about 35 years now,” says Mike Gibson. “Local is our business and that is something that is also very important to their organization, so we’re working together to get to a point where our apple supply is local 100 per cent of the year and we’re getting close to reaching our goal.”
How does one grow local apples in the winter in Ontario? They don’t, but when stored the proper way an apple picked at the season’s peak in September, can be sold in August and still be as fresh and crisp as it was when it was picked 11 months ago. This means keeping the apples in a refrigerated room, one degree above freezing with low oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, which essentially puts them to sleep so they don’t dry out.
You can find local apples grown by Algoma Orchards year-round at a Loblaws near you.