FRANKLIN TWP. -- An apple a day might keep the doctor away, but apple prices at area grocery stores might keep buyers away too.
Droughts in the Midwest and late spring frosts, combined with severe summer storms with hail, have taken a toll on the apple market, and consumers are seeing the result with high apple prices now.
According to The Associated Press, a warmer than usual March followed by a cold spell in April killed off early apple blossoms, including 52 percent of New York's harvest, about 90 percent of Michigan's and affected crops from Canada to North Carolina.
Thumbing through a Price Chopper sales flyer reveals that apple prices, which once hovered around $1.49 a pound, have risen to $1.99 a pound for tangy Macintosh or sweet Honeycrisp. In New York, apple cider has been reported reaching prices of $8 a gallon.
But local apple lovers have no fear; local orchards state they had a good season and can offer fresh, juicy apples for a cheaper price.
Paul Brace of Brace's Orchard in Franklin Township said that with 150 acres of apple trees his orchard has a 40 percent harvest.
"We are one of the fortunate ones," Brace said. "We do not sell wholesale, only retail, and will be selling apples in our store year round and will be making cider until Christmas."
Surrounded by succulent red apples, Brace, an eighth-generation farmer, said his store is very busy these days, offering a variety of apples by the quart, fresh apple cider and a selection of homemade apple treats including apple cider donuts, fresh pies, tarts, caramel apples, and apple butter.
The prices of apples depend on the variety and amount. For example one quart of Macintosh apples is $3 and a gallon of apple cider is $5, he said.
Brace estimates people are "driving about 20 miles to his store because grocery store prices are so expensive."
Ruth Heller of Heller's Orchard, which began in 1919 in Wapwallopen, said this apple-growing season was a tough one.
"We had frost in April, dry weather in the summer and a hail storm in July," she said.
Heller estimates her apple harvest is about 50 percent smaller than last year, but her orchard is still able to provide wholesale apples to some Gerrity's Supermarket locations and sell some retail in her store.
"The apple crop is panning out well," she said. "The crop will be harvested by the end of the month."
With 75 acres of her orchard dedicated to growing apples, Heller said her operation is able to provide customers with a half a bushel, about 21 pounds, of Honeycrisps for $35, and a half a peck, which is about 5 to 6 pounds, of Macintosh apples for $7. This is still cheaper than the large chain grocery store prices. Her apple cider is also $5 a gallon.
With the demand for apples running high, Brace and Heller said they have received calls from other states, including New York, New Jersey and Michigan, from people looking to buy apples wholesale.
"The eastern states were hit hard, some places do not have any apples at all, such as areas in New England, western New York and Michigan," Heller said.
Another factor to the apple market is the reduction of the number of local fruit farms. Brace said that a generation ago "there used to be 88 family fruit farms in Luzerne County."
"Now there are two -- us and Heller's," he said.
"It is important to support your local farms."
Heller's and Brace's orchards have their own stores.
Brace's Orchard, RR 3 Box 239, Brace Road, Dallas (570) 333-4236.
Heller's Orchard, Orchard Street, Wapwallopen (570) 379-3419.