Michael Suguitan / Sun Staff Photographer

Ithacans gather in the Commons for the annual Apple Harvest Festival in September 2019. This year, Apple Fest looks a little different, transformed into a six-day festival to encourage social distancing.

September 29, 2020

Ithaca Kicks Off ‘Apple Festive’ With Reduced Capacity

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Ithaca’s annual celebration of all things apple is happening — now with pandemic precautions. Instead of the all-day Apple Harvest Festival, a 38-year-old tradition, this year’s “Apple Festive” brings fall spirit to the Commons through a six-day, socially distanced farmers market.

Starting on Monday Sept. 28 and lasting through Sunday Oct. 4, from noon to 4 p.m, the event features six vendors per day who will sell produce and fall favorites, including apple cider and doughnuts.

The event will be much smaller than previous festivals, which have included 200 vendors and drawn 35,000 to 70,000 visitors for a carnival-like weekend. It will also include a socially distanced Apple Cider Trail, which will take participants through various restaurants and shops in the Commons that have apple and cider themed menus prepared.

“We’re doing everything we can to honor the tradition,” said Allison Graffin, marketing director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, “being able to enjoy apple cider, being able to see a selection of apples, being able to shop in the stores and see a variety of fall gifts.”

This year’s public health guidelines mean fewer vendors will line the Ithaca Commons, alongside mandated masks, markers to reduce crowding and the absence of carnival rides or attractions.

Graffin said the Apple Festive is both a great Ithaca community tradition and an important event for local businesses and farmers to connect with a myriad of customers.

“The Apple Harvest Festival was a big event for them in years past, and so we were trying to do something to help them as well by connecting them to people that want to buy their products,” Graffin said.

Alan Teeter, the owner of A.J. Teeter Farm just south of Ithaca, plans to pack their stand with apple cider, grapes, pumpkins, ornamental gourds and lots of sanitizers.

“We’re saddened that it’s not the festival that we’re used to, which was a really huge event,” said Teeter, who has attended Apple Fest for 27 years. “Obviously this one’s going to be much smaller scale, but we’re glad to at least be there.”

Littletree Orchards, another vendor, plans to sell its apple ciders, sauces, butters and vinegars at the event. Manager Amara Steinkraus said she hopes people visit to “connect to local agriculture,” but isn’t sure what to expect.

“It’s hard to know if students will come down,” Steinkraus said. “It’s hard to know if community will come out.”

The Downtown Ithaca Alliance originally canceled the event in July, concerned about the spread of the coronavirus. However, local vendors and farmers in the area expressed high interest in holding some version of the event and wanted to keep the tradition alive.

“That it’s happening at all is a testament to the resiliency of the community,” Steinkraus said.

For Teeter and Steinkraus, the Apple Festival was a large source of income that will likely be absent this year.

“I’m guessing we won’t come anywhere near to what we make on a normal year,” Steinkraus said.

However, she’s still glad the event is on and is able to get community members out of the house for something fun.

“It’s really important that we still have these human interactions where we’re coming together to celebrate and support the community, and so I’m grateful that that is happening,” Steinkraus said.

Graffin added that everyone can look forward to pre-packaged Cider Donuts being sold starting Wednesday. But even as vendors gear up to sell apple fall favorites, some of them said they’ll miss the spirit of the old festival.

“It does feel kind of like a sendoff from the summer and fall into the coming winter,” Steinkraus said. “I think that will be sad to not have the fullness of that experience.”