FROMBERG — John Ross, 79, works sunrise to sunset during the harvest season at his apple orchard in Fromberg.
“I usually start picking right after sunrise and a lot of times I’ll pick until you know seven o’clock in the evening,” Ross said. “I think it really does keep you in good shape. Because in the winter and spring, I’m busy pruning and going up and down ladders all day. It's really good exercise.”
The hard work is a family tradition. Ross is a fourth-generation apple farmer and runs Ross Orchards, located at 200 North Street in Fromberg.
“My grandfather came here from Kansas in 1904 and helped start a fruit tree nursery near Rockvale," Ross said. "My dad put trees in the early 1950s, and then I put this orchard in of about 300 trees in the early and mid 80s.”
Ross Orchards held the second apple sale of the season on Sunday, with three varieties to choose from. Ross has planted over 300 trees and he estimates he has around 18 varieties of apples growing now.
“One of the reasons for planting different varieties is I wanted to extend the harvest from early August until about the middle of October,” he said.
Growing apples isn't the only family tradition Ross is sticking to. He was a lawyer, comes from a family of lawyers, and has a daughter practicing law in Washington, D.C..
“We’ve all been lawyers that have grown apples for four generations. I find if you tell people you’re an apple farmer, they like that better than if you tell them you’re a lawyer,” Ross said while laughing.
Jordan Winter was one of the customers at the sale Sunday. She just recently moved to Billings from New York and missed the popularity of apple orchards on the East Coast. So, she researched orchards near Billings and found Ross Orchards. Her first time going to the apple orchard was last weekend during their first sale of the season. Winter said she had to come back on Sunday because she had already used up her first batch of apples to make applesauce.
“It's super nice to be able to meet the owners and you can put a face to the product you’re getting, it’s just so much better,” Winter said. “New York's huge on apples and finding an apple orchard with great apples (here) is just even more amazing. Makes this place even better.”
Ross expects to have a few more apple sales this season. He said to check the Ross Orchards Facebook page, where they will post details about when the sales will be.
"You know, some days I think I’m crazy to do this but it’s sort of a labor of love,” he said.