The pie crust may be flaky, but the business case for culinary tourism is proving solid, as for 14 years the Apple Pie Trail has created an engaging community of local entrepreneurs celebrating the apples of the Beaver Valley
Known locally as ‘Apple Country’, the Beaver Valley and Blue Mountains area has also made a name for itself in the culinary tourism industry for a road trip-style experience that explores the culture of local apple crops from farm to fork.
Known as the Apple Pie Trail, the route was inspired by the history of apple growing in South Georgian Bay. The area produces about 25 percent of Ontario’s apple crop each year, thanks to the warming effects of Lake Huron combined with the Niagara Escarpment.
Begun 14 years ago, the self-guided, year-round Apple Pie Trail has expanded to include 28 different stops throughout the city of The Blue Mountains, Beaver Valley and Meaford. Stops include orchards, bakeries, restaurants, wineries, cider houses, hiking and biking trails, adventure experiences, art galleries, and museums, each celebrating apple culture in the community. The stops represent generations of apple growing history and entrepreneurs bitten by apple love.
“The aim is to encourage visitors and locals alike to explore the region and discover so many of our local hidden gems that they would not otherwise venture to,” said Patti Kendall, Director of Marketing and Events at Blue Mountain Village Association (BMVA).
According to Kendall, the Apple Pie Trail first began as a dining experience designed to support agriculture and encourage tourism in the area. It has since been developed into an interactive app and expanded to include a range of different experiences and outdoor adventures unique to the region to showcase all that the local apple culture has to offer. It has won the Ontario Culinary Tourism Leadership Award and Culinary Tourism Event of the Year, among others.
“People want that authentic experience, and there’s nothing more authentic than an apple grower,” Kendall said.
Among these apple growers are the Oakleys, who own and operate Goldsmith’s Farm Market on Highway 26 on the west end of Thornbury.
Debby Oakley said it was a fantastic opportunity to showcase the best of the region.
“What better way to explore a beautiful landscape and enjoy locally harvested and home-cooked food at the peak of its flavor,” said Oakley.
The Oakley family has been growing apples and other vegetables for generations and joined the Apple Pie Trail as a small roadside fruit stand before buying Goldsmith’s in 2013.
Goldsmith’s Market itself has a long history in the Georgian Bay area, beginning as a seasonal stall in the 1960s, and over the past nine years the Oakley family has expanded it to over 200 acres of apple orchards and farmland, and added an on-farm specialty shop and bakery, open all year round.
“The Apple Pie Trail has become a community that wants to promote all of the different apple-centric culinary experiences here,” Oakley said. “People want entertainment and they love food.”
Oakley said it’s beneficial to other businesses too, even if they’re not part of the Apple Pie Trail, as it drives tourism to the area.
For David Baker, owner and cidermaker at Gray & Gold in Clarksburg, the trail has created a supportive network and community of agricultural and culinary entrepreneurs.
“It was important to us to have a range of cider plants, wineries and other businesses connected through apple culture,” Baker said. “Everyone on the trail has their own little niche, so it’s really easy to partner with and support other companies.”
A newcomer to both the Ontario cider scene and the Apple Pie Trail, Gray & Gold Cider is a sustainable, farm-based cider. The orchard bottle shop officially opened in Spring 2020, and Baker knew from the start he wanted to be a part of the Apple Pie Trail.
“The culture of this area is changing,” Baker said. “I think apple culture will continue to play a key role in this space and it’s exciting to be a part of it.”
Other experiences along the trail include apple picking at Farmer’s Pantry, educational farm tours at Good Family Farms, e-bike rentals at the Georgian Trail, and a paddle and wine experience along the Beaver River with a visit to the nearby Georgian Hills Vineyard.
Add snowshoes during the winter months for a snowy Apple Pie Trail experience.
“I love that it showcases our region, supports our farmers and supports small businesses,” said Kendall. “And from the visitor’s perspective, it gives them that authentic experience and sense of place… and taste of place.”
For the latest information and details on the Apple Pie Trail, or to download the app, visit their website.