In 1932, Frank Tantillo transformed an old dairy farm in Gardiner into a fruit farm that 80 years later is still blossoming and growing under the tutelage of his son Len, his family and grandchildren.
As Len’s wife Beverly is in the kitchen at the roadside market and farmstand making apple pies from scratch for their pie-loving customers and the Taste of New Paltz, she recalls every addition that they’ve made in the past 80 years. “In some ways the farm hasn’t changed at all: We’re still growing fruit!” she says with a laugh.
While apples are its hallmark, the Tantillos’ farm is much more than an apple orchard. They start their fruit-growing harvest in early June with strawberries, then sweet and sour cherries, followed by peaches, plums and pears from late August into October — and of course, beginning mid-September, a wide variety of apples including McIntosh, Cortland, Gala, Honeycrisp and Golden Delicious, just to name a few. In 1989 they added an ice cream stand to the market, with fresh fruit toppings from their crops, including a customer fall favorite: the hot apple crisp sundae.
Like most of the farms along the Hudson Valley Apple Trail, this is a family affair, which can easily be felt in the charming country kitchen where Beverly, her daughter Janine and her granddaughter Jessica are all busy chatting and working, slicing and dicing, taking pies in and out of the oven. “My mother taught me how to bake, and my oldest daughter Raffaela started baking pies at age 13,” says Beverly. “We mostly do pies: apple pies, fruit pies, pudding pies, mincemeat pies; butter cookies at Christmastime…” “And apple cider donuts!” Janine chimes in. “During harvest season we bake up to 124 dozen apple cider donuts a day!”
“I can bake,” Janine adds, “but only under duress! I prefer to do the books, marketing, inventory, orders — and now lunches.” Yes, as if the Tantillo farm did not offer enough for its loyal customers, it is now serving lunch made in its kitchen on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. “We change the menu each day,” explains Janine. “We served chicken quesadillas on Wednesday, taco salads today and meatloaf with roasted peppers tomorrow.”
While fruit is their mainstay, the Tantillos, always wanting to provide as much fresh produce for their customers, also grow a variety of vegetables, including Swiss chard, kale, basil, zucchini, beets, peas, rhubarb… “And lots of tomatoes,” says Beverly as she adds some finishing touches to a mile-high apple pie. “We have 2,000 tomato plants and 900 eggplants!”
They also have started growing corn for their customers — but also for the Tuthilltown Distillery, “So they can make their awesome booze!” says Janine with a laugh.
This does not account for the acres of pumpkins that they grow for the “pick-your-own-pumpkin” season that complements their “pick-your-own-apple” season, which began last weekend and will run through the end of October, complete with hayrides, tractor rides and a corn maze.
The only wholesale that they do is with their apples, but “Ninety percent of what we grow and make is sold right here” at their farm market, according to Beverly.
While they’re swamped on the weekend with tri-state eco-tourists enjoying a weekend of apple-picking and pumpkin-picking, hayrides and corn mazes, Janine says, “Seventy-five percent of our customers are local, except on the weekends. They know not to come on the weekends during our peak apple-picking season because we’re flooded. But they come all during the week.”
Len takes care of the farm with two helpers, while Beverly sticks to the farm market. “We’ve been married 49 years and we have three meals a day together!” They’ve instilled the value of hard work and family-first, as their three children all help out on the farm, as well as five of their nine grandchildren, and all of them have homes on the farm.
Asked what sets their farm (which also includes a country farm gift shop) apart, Janine says, “my mother. People love to come and talk with her, and she’ll go out of her way to help them, encourage them, share stories.”
The funny thing is that Beverly grew up on a dairy farm in Vermont and swore that she’d “never marry a farmer! We had nine kids, and I just saw how hard my Mom and Dad worked and at around age 14, 15, I thought I wanted to be like other kids and not a farm girl.”
Well, it didn’t turn out that way. When Beverly’s family moved to a dairy farm in Gardiner, they went to the Crossroads, which is now Lombardi’s, for a square dance, and Lenny’s father Frank introduced her to his son. “Two weeks later he asked me out on a date, and two years later we were married,” she says with a smile, “and I love working on the farm!” But she also enjoys the break from December through April when she can catch up on her sewing, reading and housework.
Tantillo’s is a cozy, family-friendly, picturesque 120-acre farm with a stellar view of the Shawangunk Mountains at 730 Route 208 in Gardiner. It’s open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. To learn more, go to www.tantillosfarm.com or give them a call at 256-9109.