“Pop and Mike had a saying: ‘When you work, work hard; and when you play, play hard.’ It is the philosophy that our family continues to live by. We hope that Apple Hill Farm can help inspire those who visit to do the same.”
The Moriello family and their Apple Hill Farm and farm market located off Route 32 South are truly part of the heart and soul of what makes New Paltz such a wonderful place to live. While their roots are now part of the very fiber that helps make New Paltz what it is — their family, their farm, the Moriello public pool — their history traces back to Monte di Procida in Italy, from where they immigrated to New York in 1914. They put their agricultural heritage to work.
Great-Grandpa Mike Moriello, the youngest of six brothers and sisters, had the opportunity to leave the family farm — then in Middlehope — and attend and graduate from SUNY New Paltz as a teacher. You can take the farmer out of the farm, but not the farm out of the farmer. Mike returned to his boyhood agricultural roots, where he and his parents and siblings all worked together on a farm, leaving his teaching position to purchase a working fruit farm in foreclosure in New Paltz in 1938. The rest, they say, is history — and a beautiful history it is.
Unlike many other farms during that era, what is now the Apple Hill Farm was a true apple farm when Mike purchased it and not a dairy farm, as was the agricultural trend at the time. The original farm consisted of old apple trees, some outdated machinery and infrastructure that was in a severe state of disrepair. But Mike was a farmer’s son, and through his passion for farming he planted, replanted, fixed machinery, rebuilt infrastructure and grew the farm to include an extensive packing and storage facility, as well as hiring numerous employees to help plant, reap and harvest a variety of apples, peaches, cherries and pears.
In 1945, Mike asked his brother Joe Moriello to join him on the farm, and the two formed a company and christened it Moriello Brothers. Joe and his wife Betty taught their two sons and daughters the value of hard work, as their parents had bestowed upon them; and their eldest son, Tony Moriello, decided to follow and elevate his family’s agricultural tradition by enrolling in and graduating from Cornell University in 1954.
But just as farmers have had to steel themselves against the vagaries of Mother Nature — entire crops and a year’s worth of hard work lost by an early freeze, a random hailstorm, a drought — nothing could have prepared this close-knit farm family for what was to come. Mike, as Tony Moriello (the patriarch of the family and Mike’s nephew) explains, “wanted to find a way to spray throughout an entire season to protect the crop. He loved flying, he loved farming and he put his mind to both. He became the first apple farmer ever to successfully fly his own plane and spray the crop year-round.”
His ingenuity and love of farming ended tragically when he died in a plane crash on the Moriello farm while in the midst of spraying. Not only was Uncle Mike, as Mike Jr. calls him, “an incredible farmer and inventive soul, but he was also very civic-minded.” To that end, Uncle Mike had worked with New Paltz residents and officials to purchase and create a public swimming pool, now named after him as the Moriello Pool, which has become a cornerstone in New Paltz and helped teach so many children and adults the lifesaving skill of swimming.
Owing to the death of his uncle and the impact that tragedy had on the farm, Tony Moriello had to leave Cornell before he could graduate, to help save the family farm. “It was tough on Dad,” says Mike Jr., who works the farm alongside his wife Jean, who with other family members runs their über-popular farm market and “Pick-Your-Own” apple/pumpkin weekends throughout late summer and fall. “He lost his uncle, and then one of Mike’s brothers, Joe, working on a farm, was killed when a tractor rolled on top of him. But my Dad persevered,” he said with tears in his eyes.
Brighter days lay ahead, and Tony married Sheila Costa, who left her teaching profession to assist her husband with the operation and management of the family farm. From 1957 to 1980, through the hard work and innovation of Tony and Sheila and “Pop” and dozens of family members, the farm experienced incredible growth. Additional storage and packing facilities were built and farm acreage acquired, which helped their apple sales to be delivered not only locally but around the world to Canada, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Finland, Iceland and beyond.
“We were almost exclusively a wholesale farm operation until I came on board,” said Mike Jr., Tony and Sheila’s son. After graduation from New Paltz High School in 1980, he followed in his father’s footsteps and enrolled at Cornell University to study the science, trends, chemistry and biodiversity of farming. Mike’s thesis at college, well-researched and prepared and received, was on the viability of farm markets. “What I find to be one of the greatest joys of the farm is that I had a dream in college, I pursued it, Jean [Moriello, his wife and childhood sweetheart] jumped on board and within one year of graduating, we had a farm market and it worked!”
That thesis did not sit on a dusty shelf, but became what is now Moriello or Apple Hill Farm’s greatest success: its roadside farm market stand. Jean and her mother-in-law Sheila, Tony, the grandchildren, cousins, nephews and nieces all work there to provide pick-your-own apples with hayrides and an antique fire engine ride, as well as freshly grown and cut flowers, homemade apple cider, apple pies and cider donuts that fly off the baking racks, as well as a plethora of wholesome farm-flavored offerings.
What was once a wholesale market, where the fruit grown and harvested traveled the world, is now a real hometown, regional operation where the majority of the Moriellos’ sales are from their loyal customers, both regionally and from the tri-state area. “We did a little retail before,” says Mike Jr., who is also a prominent land use attorney in the area, along with his uncle Joe Moriello, who lives on the farm as well.