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Bushels & Pecks

In this family business, apples don’t fall far from the trees



Photos by Frania Caulfield

Bill Riiska reaches from the driver seat of his nifty utility vehicle and pulls three blueberries off one of his 500 bushes. They’re plump, sweet, and juicy. Then Riiska is off again, pushing his Ranger to a comfortable 25 miles per hour on the paved road alongside his blueberry patch, headed to one end of his orchard sitting right around the bend. He turns from the road onto the meadow with practiced skill, making the tour on this late-summer afternoon into a bit of a joyride.

Not far from some rows of honey-crisp apple trees, a neighborhood turkey lingers on a freshly mowed plot of land, pulling up some worms from the earth. There’s also a small clover field that Riiska says the local deer are quite fond of. The raspberry bushes here have just begun to bear fruit—little, fuzzy, white cones protrude from the branches, and they’ve attracted the attention of some equally fuzzy bumblebees. Riiska calls out the names of the different apple varieties—McIntosh, Cortland, Idared—as he rides through the orchard.

Rambling around Riiska Brook Orchard, located on a quiet road that branches off Route 57 in southern Sandisfield, a visitor can come across a small corn field, pumpkin patch, henhouse, and vegetable garden, in addition to the main attraction—rows and rows of apple trees, whose little red treasures are plain to see, even as dusk falls.

The Riiska family tends over 11 varieties of apples, most of which will be ready for picking by mid-September. Perhaps more than other Berkshire seasonal businesses, this one depends on a highly concentrated burst of activity. When blueberry season starts in July, things are still quiet. Visitors are welcome to pull into the family’s driveway and have a long walk through the orchard, taking in the surrounding forest and lush green hills. But after Labor Day, the place will be jam-packed with visitors improvising parking spaces alongside the road. Families will bring dogs and picnic lunches, turning an apple-picking visit into a full afternoon. Lucky kids may get a ride around the property in a golf cart or the Ranger.

The season peaks on Columbus Day weekend and then tails off quickly. But even in mid-November last year, Bill’s wife, Barbara, was still holding court in the farm store on a chilly, windy Sunday, sitting in a chair near the wood stove and advising walk-ins on the best apples for Thanksgiving pie. (She recommends a medley.) The phone rings, and a caller inquires about pumpkins. She’s got some that will suit. There’s always at least one dog lounging around, and often the Riiskas’s extended family drop by to do chores.

“I call this my healing place,” Barbara says, offering a visitor warm apple cider pressed in the building next door. It seems to be a favorite phrase, one that aptly fits the serene surroundings. Even when the hoards of apple pickers die down, with friends and family popping in and out, there’s a feeling here of bounty.

Bill grew up on the property, which at the time was a dairy farm run by his family. While he was overseas serving as a paratrooper in Vienam—after being drafted at the relatively late age of 26—his father broke his leg and was forced to sell the cows for lack of help. Returning home, Bill started a long career in logging. Later, he and Barbara settled down in Otis. They have six children, 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

January will mark 12 years since the two moved to the old farm. Bill took a stab at growing an orchard, planting 500 trees. Now there are 2,700. One by one, they added the other sidelines, and nowadays Barbara and various family helpers are kept busy filling orders for quarts of blueberries and raspberry jam. This is the first year they’ve stopped hauling their wares to a weekly famers’ market, focusing instead on direct orders and store sales. The cook at a nearby YMCA camp has a standing order for blueberries, and Wheatleigh and Blantyre are also clients. Regular customers are fans of one jam or another and pretty much clean the Riiskas out each season.

At 72, Bill is still in the logging game, and does most of the farm upkeep on weekends and evenings. Keeping the place mowed and weeded is the most time-consuming part, he says. He sprays the apple trees 16 times a year—each time is a 10-to-12-hour job—and the rising cost of associated supplies, not to mention fuel for the tractor, is always a concern.

As Barbara, Bill, and granddaughter Katrina Wrba gather for dinner on an August evening, a whiteboard leaning against the wall bears a list of that week’s berry commitments. On the menu tonight is grilled pork chops, homemade applesauce and corn on the cob that Katrina plucked off the stalk just a few minutes before. The applesauce is sweet and a vivid pink color, owing to Barbara’s preference for leaving the apple skin intact. A colander on the counter is filled with a heaping pile of fresh eggs from the henhouse.

The farmstead has proven a major family gathering space, says Wrba, a registered nurse who works in Springfield. “It’s funny to see our little cousins run around, and they’re really raised here. They know everything about this farm. One of the grandkids, who’s 11, likes to take the bus straight here from school instead of going home. She’ll show up and say, ‘Can I play with the chickens?’”

Barbara pipes in: “She’ll pick one out of all of them and give it a name, and then she can tell you which chicken it is.”

“She’ll walk in with one under each arm,” adds Bill.

It’s a great gathering place for adults, too. Katrina threw a party here this summer for a friend’s engagement, and she smiles at memories of the 21st-birthday party for her brother Andy, who is known around the Berkshires for his musical exploits.

One suspects the stories could go on forever. But it’s been a long day. Before grilling the pork chops and taking a spin around the property, Bill was splitting logs at October Mountain State Forest. The family needs to pick, wash, and package 24 quarts of blueberries for a pickup the next day. Camp Eisner in Great Barrington will also send its youngest campers to pick their own.

Just minutes earlier the skies were clear, but rainclouds arrive with the dusk. As the heavy drops start to fall, this healing place is ready to rest, and it’s time to go.

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February 2018

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Cost: Members: Free; Non-Members: $5

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
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View map »


Sponsor: Fairfield Museum and History Center
Telephone: 203-259-1598
Contact Name: Visitor Services Manager
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Cost: $26 for members/student / $41 for non-members

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More information

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Cost: FREE

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Sponsor: The Smithy Store
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Cost: Members: Free; Non-Members: $5

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Sponsor: Fairfield Museum and History Center
Telephone: 203-259-1598
Contact Name: Visitor Services Manager
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Telephone: 860-355-0300
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11 North Water Street
Norwalk, CT  06854
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Sponsor: Norwalk Parking Authority
Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Maritime Garage Gallery
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Opening Reception: Thursday, February 15, 2018, 6:30-8:30pm. Light hors d'oeuvres and wine served. Enjoy a gallery tour and scholarly presentation at 7:00pm by Dr. Peter Bayers, Director of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Pequot Library
720 Pequot Avenue
Southport, CT  06890
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Sponsor: Pequot Library
Telephone: 203-259-0346 ext.115
Contact Name: Front Desk
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Heather Gaudio Fine Art is pleased to present “Jeremy Holmes: New Sculpture,” the first solo exhibition of the artist at the gallery.  The show will open with a public reception on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
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Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: (203)801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
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Vermont based artist Alisa Dworsky opens an exhibition of new works, including InVersion, a large scale, site-based volumetric work, at CYNTHIA-REEVES, located on the campus of MASS MoCA in North...

Cost: Free

Where:
CYNTHIA-REEVES
1315 MASS MoCA Way
North Adams, MA  01247
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Sponsor: CYNTHIA-REEVES
Telephone: 413-398-5257
Contact Name: Kristen Jussila
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EVERY THURSDAY | 7:30 PM - 10:00 pm Music | Spoken Word | Comedy | More Hosted by Don Lowe Hunt Hill Farm is excited to announce OpenMic night every Thursday night.  Please stop by to...

Cost: donation

Where:
Hunt Hill Farm
44 Upland Road
New Milford, CT  06776
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Sponsor: Hunt Hill Farm
Telephone: 860.355.0300
Contact Name: John C. Maxwell III
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Robert Deyber (born August 1955 in Greenwich, Connecticut) is an American artist best known for literal visual portrayals of cliches, euphemisms, and idioms from the English and other languages....

Cost: Free

Where:
Byrde + the b
10 Titus Road
Washington Depot, CT  06794
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Sponsor: Byrde + the b
Telephone: 212 255 6247
Contact Name: Steven Miller
Website »

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Come see and shop for Xavier Ricolfi's new line of jewelry just in time for Valentine's Day!  French designer Xavier Ricolfi draws upon his industrial design background, ...

Cost: free

Where:
Byrde + the b
10 Titus Road
Washington Depot, CT  06794
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Sponsor: Byrde + the b
Telephone: 212 255 6247
Contact Name: Steven Miller
Website »

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Spaght Gallery; February 8, 2018 - July 23, 2018 Seeking opportunities and a better life is an ideal uniting our shared American identity. This exhibition provides and intimate look at the...

Cost: Members: Free; Non-Members: $5

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
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Sponsor: Fairfield Museum and History Center
Telephone: 203-259-1598
Contact Name: Visitor Services Manager
Website »

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Spectrum: Annual Contemporary Art Show What’s Now/What’s New Open Call For Entries Spectrum is a juried exhibition of original, contemporary artwork by local and regional...

Cost: $26 for members/student / $41 for non-members

Where:
, CT


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The Loft Gallery will host Litchfield artists, Barbra Kraut and Joan Morosani, from February 21 through April 8. ​The exhibit will highlight abstract paintings by Ms. Kraut,...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Smithy and Loft Gallery
10 Main Street
New Preston , CT  06777
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Sponsor: The Smithy Store
Telephone: 860-868-9003
Contact Name: Susan
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The 10th annual “Close To Home” event to benefit the Pacific House Young Adult Program will be held Friday, February 23rd at the Hyatt Regency Greenwich.  This popular,...

Cost: $50.00

Where:
Hyatt Regency Greenwich
1800 E. Putnam Avenue
Old Greenwich, CT  06870
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Sponsor: Pacific House
Telephone: 203-406-0017x304
Contact Name: Lisa Planchard
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UMass Amherst Libraries present the 24th Annual Du Bois Lecture, featuring Dr. Reiland Rabaka

Cost: Free

Where:
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
14 Castle Street
Great Barrington, MA  01230
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Sponsor: UMass Amherst Libraries
Telephone: 413-577-0932
Contact Name: Whitney Battle-Baptiste
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The winter exhibit at the City of Norwalk Parking Authority’s Maritime Garage Gallery entitled, “Worth a Thousand Words" features artists’ renderings that convey...

Cost: Free

Where:
Maritime Garage Gallery
11 North Water Street
Norwalk, CT  06854
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Sponsor: Norwalk Parking Authority
Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Maritime Garage Gallery
Website »

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Opening Reception: Thursday, February 15, 2018, 6:30-8:30pm. Light hors d'oeuvres and wine served. Enjoy a gallery tour and scholarly presentation at 7:00pm by Dr. Peter Bayers, Director of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Pequot Library
720 Pequot Avenue
Southport, CT  06890
View map »


Sponsor: Pequot Library
Telephone: 203-259-0346 ext.115
Contact Name: Front Desk
Website »

More information

Heather Gaudio Fine Art is pleased to present “Jeremy Holmes: New Sculpture,” the first solo exhibition of the artist at the gallery.  The show will open with a public reception on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: (203)801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

Vermont based artist Alisa Dworsky opens an exhibition of new works, including InVersion, a large scale, site-based volumetric work, at CYNTHIA-REEVES, located on the campus of MASS MoCA in North...

Cost: Free

Where:
CYNTHIA-REEVES
1315 MASS MoCA Way
North Adams, MA  01247
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Sponsor: CYNTHIA-REEVES
Telephone: 413-398-5257
Contact Name: Kristen Jussila
Website »

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One-Time Cladies Night for Adults Interested in Learning to Use the Potter’s Wheel Looking to get your hands dirty and learn how to use the potter’s wheel? Try Clay Center’s...

Cost: $50

Where:
Clay Art Center
40 Beech Street
Port Chester, NY  10573
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Robert Deyber (born August 1955 in Greenwich, Connecticut) is an American artist best known for literal visual portrayals of cliches, euphemisms, and idioms from the English and other languages....

Cost: Free

Where:
Byrde + the b
10 Titus Road
Washington Depot, CT  06794
View map »


Sponsor: Byrde + the b
Telephone: 212 255 6247
Contact Name: Steven Miller
Website »

More information

Come see and shop for Xavier Ricolfi's new line of jewelry just in time for Valentine's Day!  French designer Xavier Ricolfi draws upon his industrial design background, ...

Cost: free

Where:
Byrde + the b
10 Titus Road
Washington Depot, CT  06794
View map »


Sponsor: Byrde + the b
Telephone: 212 255 6247
Contact Name: Steven Miller
Website »

More information

Spaght Gallery; February 8, 2018 - July 23, 2018 Seeking opportunities and a better life is an ideal uniting our shared American identity. This exhibition provides and intimate look at the...

Cost: Members: Free; Non-Members: $5

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Sponsor: Fairfield Museum and History Center
Telephone: 203-259-1598
Contact Name: Visitor Services Manager
Website »

More information

Washington, CT. Shepaug Valley School will host Minds in Motion™ Shepaug on Saturday, February 24, 2018 from 12:00-4:00. Co-presented by Region 12 and Connecticut Association for the Gifted...

Cost: $15

Where:
Shepaug Valley School
159 South Street
Washington, CT  06793
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Sponsor: CAG
Telephone: 203-291-6586
Contact Name: Julie King
Website »

More information

Spectrum: Annual Contemporary Art Show What’s Now/What’s New Open Call For Entries Spectrum is a juried exhibition of original, contemporary artwork by local and regional...

Cost: $26 for members/student / $41 for non-members

Where:
, CT


Website »

More information

Broadway comes to Ridgefield! Daniel C. Levine directs Andrew Lloyd Webber’s smash-hit Broadway musical, JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT, featuring an all-star Broadway cast. If...

Cost: $69.50

Where:
The Ridgefield Playhouse
80 EAST RIDGE
RIDGEFIELD, CT  06877
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Sponsor: Ridgefield Magazine’s Broadway & Cabaret Series, Partially underwritten by Books on the Common and Adam Broderick Salon
Website »

More information

The Loft Gallery will host Litchfield artists, Barbra Kraut and Joan Morosani, from February 21 through April 8. ​The exhibit will highlight abstract paintings by Ms. Kraut,...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Smithy and Loft Gallery
10 Main Street
New Preston , CT  06777
View map »


Sponsor: The Smithy Store
Telephone: 860-868-9003
Contact Name: Susan
Website »

More information

Ridgefield Operation for Animal Rescue (ROAR) will host its annual ROAR WITH LAUGHTER gala and fundraising event on February 24th at Rolling Hills Country Club in...

Cost: $175 per guest | table of 10: $1,650 | table of 12: $1,980

Where:
Rolling Hills Country Club
333 Hurlbutt Street
Wilton, CT  06897
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Sponsor: ROAR
Telephone: 203-438-0158
Website »

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Ahmed Gallab makes music that is joyful and generous, with a razor-sharp message about community and social justice. He led the 15-piece Atomic Bomb Band, with collaborators that included David...

Cost: $10-$26

Where:
MASS MoCA
1040 MASS MoCA Way
North Adams, MA  01247
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Telephone: 413-662-2111
Website »

More information

Broadway comes to Ridgefield! Daniel C. Levine directs Andrew Lloyd Webber’s smash-hit Broadway musical, JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT, featuring an all-star Broadway cast. If...

Cost: $69.50

Where:
The Ridgefield Playhouse
80 EAST RIDGE
RIDGEFIELD, CT  06877
View map »


Sponsor: Ridgefield Magazine’s Broadway & Cabaret Series, Partially underwritten by Books on the Common and Adam Broderick Salon
Website »

More information

Seldom has there been such a merging of intellectual rigor and emotion as in Johann Sebastian Bach’s Gamba Sonatas. The slow movements reach remarkable spiritual height and the outer movements...

Cost: $38 general seating / $15 students

Where:
Saint James Place
352 Main St
Great Barrington, MA  01230
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Sponsor: Close Encounters With Music
Telephone: 800-843-0778
Contact Name: Close Encounters With Music
Website »

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On Saturday February 24 at 7pm, join New Pond Farm’s team of astronomy volunteers and gaze through the telescopes at the 9-day Old Moon and several galaxies and star clusters. The team will...

Cost: $4 per New Pond Farm member ($12 max. per member family), and $6 per non-member

Where:
New Pond Farm Education Center
101 Marchant Road
Redding, CT  06896
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Telephone: (203) 938-2117
Website »

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Opening Reception: Thursday, February 15, 2018, 6:30-8:30pm. Light hors d'oeuvres and wine served. Enjoy a gallery tour and scholarly presentation at 7:00pm by Dr. Peter Bayers, Director of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Pequot Library
720 Pequot Avenue
Southport, CT  06890
View map »


Sponsor: Pequot Library
Telephone: 203-259-0346 ext.115
Contact Name: Front Desk
Website »

More information

Heather Gaudio Fine Art is pleased to present “Jeremy Holmes: New Sculpture,” the first solo exhibition of the artist at the gallery.  The show will open with a public reception on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: (203)801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

Vermont based artist Alisa Dworsky opens an exhibition of new works, including InVersion, a large scale, site-based volumetric work, at CYNTHIA-REEVES, located on the campus of MASS MoCA in North...

Cost: Free

Where:
CYNTHIA-REEVES
1315 MASS MoCA Way
North Adams, MA  01247
View map »


Sponsor: CYNTHIA-REEVES
Telephone: 413-398-5257
Contact Name: Kristen Jussila
Website »

More information

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