By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
WESTFORD – For your family, a trip to Willy’s Farm & Cider Mill may be a fun afternoon outing.
For the Gartung family, it’s a way to keep the family’s legacy alive.
With their parents, William and Mary, the 12 Gartung siblings moved to the Westford dairy farm from Long Island in 1960. And when the parents retired, seven of the dozen bought the farm to keep it in the family.
“This was the farm we grew up on,” explained Mary Gartung-Jones, one of the seven. “We all worked on it with our parents.”
The father died in 1994, worried that the barn might have to be torn down. Instead, the rest of the family came up with a solution to raise the funds to stabilize it and to pay the taxes.
Together, the family bought an apple-cider roller press and, that first year, also sold mums, pumpkins and homemade treats, including Mary’s homemade apple pie, all out of the dairy barn.
“When we were kids, one of the things we would do every year is pick apples and have cider pressed,” said Theresa Gartung Clements.
“Our customers were wonderful,” added Laura. “We’d only managed to fix half the roof, so you could see daylight through the other half!”
But the Gartungs achieved their goal, making enough that first year to pay their taxes and repair that roof.
Since then, the family’s expanded retail offerings to include tin-punch decorations, photography, quilting, paintings and handmade fall and Christmas decorations. Plus corn, gourds and pumpkins, all grown on the farm.
The introduced the now-famous “Emma Bars,” made with cream cheese and chocolate on a butter crust. “Someone called them ‘edible sin,’” said Laura.
“Most everything in here is made by one of us,” said Theresa.
Today, Willy’s Farm also carries Palatine Cheese, as well as local maple syrup and Beak & Skiff cider – in case you didn’t bring any apples to press your own.
And word about the goodies on the hill quickly spread – promotions included driving tractor at the Schenevus Fireman’s Carnival parade. The farm became a field-trip destination.
Still, Theresa says, “We’re the best-kept secret in the county.”
The press was upgraded and, with a six-bushel minimum, can make several gallons of fresh cider while you wait. “The best cider comes from a combination of apples,” said Theresa. “We always say, don’t put in anything that doesn’t taste good to you!”
She recommends a mix of Empire, Cortland and Gala apples. “We had someone do a run of straight Cortlands, and that was good too!” she said.
In the past 25 years, and attraction’s grown in include a corn maze, pumpkin people, photo booths and goats, as well as becoming a venue for music, vintage car cruise-ins and other free family entertainment.
“You can come here and spend all day and not spend a dime,” said Laura. “We want this to be someplace families can come and not have to spend a lot of money.”
Although hay rides are on pause due to COVID-19, the haunted walks through the corn maze are schedule 7-8:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Oct. 23-24.
Mother Mary passed away in 2010, but every year, on Columbus Day weekend, the kids give away free donuts and cider to celebrate her birthday.
Entering the season weekend of the season, the family is starting to see old friends return.
“One gentleman used to come here every year with his granddaughter,” said Theresa. “She just went to college, and he came here by himself – she told him not to miss it, even though she wasn’t there.”
IF YOU GO: Willy’s Cider Mill, Fridays, 12 – 5 p.m., Saturdays, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Sunday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. thru Nov. 8. Cider pressings by appointment, (607) 638-9449.