Just once a year in the depths of fall, Cornell students can be spotted carrying jugs of apple cider and bags of apples to their dorms instead of backpacks filled with books. The Apple Harvest Festival — popularly known as AppleFest — is one of Ithaca’s most popular annual traditions for students and town residents alike, and is returning to the city after a modified “Apple Festive” in 2020.
The festival is organized by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, a nonprofit that aims to develop and promote Ithaca. This year, AppleFest will celebrate its 39th year on Oct. 1 to 3.
COVID brought changes to AppleFest last year, when the festival moved to a six-day socially distanced farmers market that included an Apple and Cider Trail. Although the usual AppleFest will take place this year, Scott Rougeau, DIA special events director, said that COVID precautions will remain to ensure that the event is safe for the community.
“There will be less vendors and more space between the vendors,” Rougeau said. “We’re going to be encouraging masks for everybody, obviously encouraging vaccinations beforehand, and hoping people social distance when they can.”
Many stands will be taking their own precautions as well. Bakers Acres, a local vendor that sells apples, apple butter and cider, will not allow customers to self-serve like they did in previous years. Patrons will still be able to indulge in their usual apple products, but may not be able to dig through crates of apples or pour their own hot cider.
“We’re happy that [AppleFest] is back because it’s something that people loved, but I just don’t want to see COVID cases all of a sudden increasing,” said Cathy Kressler, co-owner of Bakers Acres.
Many other long-term staples of the festival, including Robbie’s Produce, A.J. Teeter Farm and LittleTree Orchards, as well as some new vendors, will head back down to the Commons for this year’s AppleFest. Rougeau recommends that visitors try some of the must-haves, such as apple cider donuts, fried chicken, candy and caramel apples, fresh produce and apple mac and cheese.
Amanda Wilson ’23 remembers the mac and cheese from her first time attending Apple Fest as a first-year student. She is looking forward to returning this year as an upperclassman.
“Freshman year, it was really nice to see a lot of local businesses there because it was our first year there and we didn’t know very much about local shops in the area,” Wilson said. “Just being able to see the Commons and some of the stores there was really nice.”
Wilson said she was disappointed that COVID prevented her from a normal AppleFest last year, as she works at the Hodge Lab at Cornell where she studies fungal diseases of various apples.
“I was sad because working at the lab I started to learn about a bunch of different apple varieties, so it would’ve been so cool,” Wilson said. “I’m really excited to go back this year.”
Emma Harte ’22 went to AppleFest consecutively her freshman and sophomore years. She plans to attend the festival again this year.
“I think it’s really unique to Ithaca and also a fun way to explore the area,” Harte said. “I’m definitely excited to buy apples and get apple crisps again this year.”
Though the pandemic has brought many uncertainties, the DIA team is confident that the Ithaca community can continue to support local businesses and share their love for apples this year.
“We’re going to do everything that we can to make the event as safe as possible,” Rougeau said. “We’re fortunate to live in a community that has taken the vaccination and the virus itself very seriously, so I have faith in our community that people will show up and they’ll do the right thing.”