One Apple Festival per year keeps the doldrums away

35th annual event off to a fresh start, with a dry finish


The apples are fresh and so is the leadership behind this year’s Johnston Apple Festival.

As organizers prepare for this weekend’s 35th annual event, the sponsoring orchard and the Apple Festival are both in new hands.

The Shields family purchased Appleland, of Smithfield, from former owners, Mary Lou D’Andrea and her husband Lou.

“This has been really quite a project,” said new orchard co-owner Ashley Shields. “We’re filling some big shoes.”

Appleland has been the lone Ocean State orchard providing apples, apple-based baked goods and cider to the festival for years. The farm’s new owners felt it was vital to continue the tradition.

“We really want to be a community hub,” Shields said. “This is a really great event. We want to build a presence and share all this with the community.”

This weekend, Sept. 9 and 10, the 35th Annual Apple Festival will return to Johnston’s Memorial Park.

In the past, the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce (NRCOC) ran the festival, but this year, Rhode Island Events LLC have taken over the effort.

“This year we came in a little late to organize this event,” said Katie Harrison, of Rhode Island Events LLC. “We had a few challenges with vendors thinking our original message that we were taking over was a scam.”

The new organizers had to convince participants that they were legit.

“We are so lucky that the NRCOC passed on all of their binders and detailed information for planning this event,” Harrison explained. “It has made planning the event so much easier. I would say about 50% of the vendors are new and the rest are returning vendors which seems like a great success for our first year.”

Shields presented a pair of sugar-cinnamon dusted apple cider donuts and a small jar of hard cider.

“Out of respect for the previous owner, we’ve decided to brand our apple cider donuts,” she explained. “We’re working the labels.”

Appleland’s exclusive sweet cider rings will now be called Mary Lou’s World Famous Old-Fashioned Apple Cider Donuts.

“Appleland is back again with all their delicious goodies including apple cider donuts, apple pies and of course apples by the bushel,” Harrison said. “The 35th Annual Apple Festival will have the charm it's always had but with new and exciting additions this year.”

This year’s festival will once again be packed with food and craft vendors.

“As far as food vendors we have Dels and CC's Chips returning this year and then we have Joe's Snack Shack, Not Your Average Popcorn, Sweet Daddy Joe's, Haven Bros Ice Cream, Dinolicious and Haven Bros Mobile,” Harrison said, rattling off some confirmed food hawkers. “The mayor will be at the event on Saturday morning to give an opener speech. We will have performances by Mastery Martial Arts, the KC Moaners band and High Steppin Dance Academy.

If the Memorial Park lot and surrounding streets fill with cars, extra parking will be offered across Atwood Avenue at the Johnston Senior High School.

“The Johnston Fire Department will be bringing the educational smoke house, the local scouts will have a gaga pit and there will also be bounce house slides,” Harrison said. “We just found out we should be having a glass blowing demonstration by Gather Glass as well as all the other entertainment we have planned.”

The Shields family took ownership of Appleland in April and the D’Andrea family helped smooth the transition. They helped press cider and pass on some of the orchard’s production secrets.

“I think that Appleland is going to do a great job as always,” Harrison said. “They worked very hard with the previous owners to make sure this event goes smoothly like usual. They are bringing what they usually bring as far as apple products, and I think that it's all going to go great.”

Appleland opened to pick-your-own customers last week. The farm boasts 90 apple and peach trees across its three-acre orchard.

They’ve been in overdrive, pulling ripe spheres from branches, packing them in crates, baking some, squeezing others, fermenting some juice and bottling the rest.

Shields showed off a jar of the orchard’s new hard cider, which she explained has a nice, dry finish.

She and her husband fell in love with the orchard when they stopped by last year to pick pumpkins. When they later discovered the farm was for sale, she and her family felt it may be the fresh start they all craved.

“We just fell in love with this farm store,” Shields said, standing inside next to baskets full of produce and a humming refrigerator full of chilled apple accoutrements. “We had been trying indoor farming, but we never expected to buy an orchard. Then we heard it was for sale, and we kept growing the idea.”

They lived down the street.

“We were the right fit,” Shields said. “We didn’t want to let it go.”