Farming and family bonds in Scituate apple orchard

By Kendra Gravelle

As the leaves turn to their late shades of red and yellow and the air temperature begins to creep down the thermometer, families all over Rhode Island flock to their favorite orchards to take their turns picking crisp, juicy apples right from the tree.

Scituate Nursery, established in 1983 by John Polseno, grows a variety of annual flowers, pumpkins and vegetables. And although John only planted his first apple trees seven years ago, the farm’s pick-your-own apple orchard has become quite a popular fall destination.

The orchard boasts about 10 different apple varieties, with row after row of Honeycrisp, McIntosh, Cortland, Red Delicious and Fuji trees.

Having been raised on an apple orchard in Smithfield, John, a Vietnam War veteran who owned a landscaping business before buying the land for Scituate Nursery, had always dreamed of owning his own farm and garden center, his wife Linda Polseno said.

“It started as a small, small garden center,” Linda explained. “It was just one greenhouse and a few shrubberies. I mean, for our first deliveries, we used to get just five rhododendrons.”

“My first year I bought 50 mums, sold 10, and threw 40 away,” John added.

This year, on the other hand, the farmers grew 4,000 mums.

And that single greenhouse has been joined by 11 others.

“Through the years it just started to build up,” Linda said.

Consumers tend to prefer newer apple varieties to the traditional apple varieties, John said.

“If you don’t plant new varieties, people don’t want ‘em,” he added, sitting on his Kubota. “You know, Yellow Delicious is a hard seller. McIntosh will always sell. But Macoun, Honeycrisp, that’s what the people are looking for.”

Having started with 1,500 trees, the orchard now consists of roughly 2,000, explained Gina Polseno, the wife of John’s eldest son.

The apple trees didn’t bear as many apples this year as they did in 2015, Gina said, due to this year’s mild winter combined with a few below-freezing days in April.

“We don’t have as many apples as last year,” she said. “We had a cooler full of apples last year. This year, not nearly half as many.”

Gina, who has worked at Scituate Nursery since 1991, wears many hats around the farm.

“I graduated high school and this was my second job ever,” Gina, a Scituate-native, said. “I do a little bit of everything.”

It seems that apple-growing runs in the Polseno family. John, 71, grew up with five brothers, each of whom took his turn tending to orchards.

In fact, John’s late brother, Dan Polseno, once owned Sunset Orchards, located down the street from John’s farm.

With only five people working full-time at the farm, the farm’s employees have become quite close.

“There’s three of us that are family,” Linda said, “and the other two are like family.”

Ann Marie Bataitis, a Scituate resident, echoed that sentiment.

“They treat you like family,” said Bataitis, who has worked at the farm for about two years.

John was sure to give credit to the women who help run his farm.

“Without them this place wouldn’t be here,” he said.

“We more or less run the place,” Linda laughed. “He keeps his eye on us, though.”

And not only has the farm provided the Polsenos with the chance to bond with each other, it has also granted them the opportunity to get to know other families in the community.

“Kids from two years old have grown up into adults now,” Linda said. “They’re parents now and they, in turn, come here with their kids. It’s amazing how they’ve grown, these kids. People will come in, and I’ll say, ‘How’s your son?’ and they’ll say, ‘he’s driving now!’ You don’t realize how fast the time goes.”

As if pumpkin-painting and apple-picking aren’t enough to keep children occupied, Linda said there were once kittens running around the farm, keeping the children busy while mom and dad did their shopping.

“Some of the kids who were coming in here at eight or nine years old are now married with their own families,” Linda said, “and they remember it. They say, ‘Where’re your kittens?’”

Where there were once kittens hanging out around the farm, there are now wooden cut-outs of Pokémon hidden throughout the orchards.

At the farm’s entrance, Pikachu holds a sign asking, “Can you help me find my friends?”

Taking a stroll through the acres of trees, there’s a good chance visitors will be able to spot some of Pikachu’s pals. Butterfree flutters through rows of Mcintosh; Vulpix peaks out from behind a Honeycrisp tree.

“It’s great, because the younger kids who don’t have the phones and know Pokémon but can’t really play it, at least here they can find different Pokémon,” Gina said, referring to the popular Pokémon GO augmented reality game.

The Pokémon, Gina added, were painted by Bataitis.

“Ann Marie, she’s quite the artist.”

Polseno Orchards opens for the season in April and stays open for business through Christmas eve, Linda said, adding that May and June are its busiest months.

The farm’s stock changes with the seasons — autumnal decorations are sold through September and October. In December, it’s Christmas trees and poinsettias.

And as Polseno Orchards grows, with new apple trees being planted each year and plenty of Pokémon to be captured, one thing is certain for the farm’s future.

“We’d like to keep it in the family,” Linda said.

And John’s favorite part about living on the farm?

“Waking up every morning,” John answered. “Farming is a labor of love.”