LEWISTON — Sabin Lavorgna called his mom not too long into the pandemic to announce he’d be buying the former Benoit’s apple orchard.

The Lewiston High School grad was 24, living in California, several years into a Navy enlistment.

“I’m like, wait, what?” said Jennifer Dolloff Barker. “I said, ‘Why?’ He said because I want to invest in something, I want to put my money somewhere safe and what better place to put it than an apple orchard so I’ll have something to come home to.”

Dormant at least five years, its 20 acres were badly overgrown. His family in Lewiston knew nothing about farming, or apples, but Barker’s first impression walking the property was, “he’s not going to have anything to come home to if we don’t rescue these trees.”

She, her husband, Jeff, and her daughter, Holly Lavorgna, started reading up and cutting brush when they weren’t at their own jobs. Strangers turned out with equipment and advice.

And though it was not the plan, Honey Hill Orchard opened earlier this month.

“We had such a beautiful bloom this spring,” said Barker. “It was like they just woke up and they were thanking us for getting them untangled.”

Holly Lavorgna weighs apples Sunday for a customer after returning from picking their own at Honey Hill Orchard on Ferry Road in Lewiston at the former Benoit’s Orchard. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

She isn’t sure what brought the property at 266 Ferry Road to her son’s attention. Growing up, his best friend lived across the street from Benoit’s and on Sunday mornings, after spending the night, the two would head over to the orchard to trade work on odd jobs for apple cider doughnuts.

His best friend died two years ago.

“Although Sabin hasn’t said anything, I think him buying Benoit’s was a nod to (his friend), but I’m not sure,” she said.

Not too far into their major cleanup effort, Barker said a “sprite 80-year-old” who had worked at the orchard in the 1990s showed up one day and coached the couple on tree trimming.

“He would do a row of trees and my husband and I would do one tree; it seemed like such a hard task and such an overwhelming task at the beginning of the year last year, but we accomplished way more than I thought we would,” she said.

The same man identified the 12 varieties of apples on the property. Telling the difference between them all is a work in progress, Barker said. “I’m learning. When I look at them, they look the same. They look like an apple.”

When a southern Maine orchard owner heard the place was coming back to life, he reached out to offer industry contacts and loan the family his spare sprayer.

“To buy this thing new, it’s $20,000,” she said. “We drove down there with a trailer, hauled his sprayer up onto the trailer and brought it home and we’ve had it ever since, and we’ve never met him before. It’s just unreal that they’re so trusting and supportive in this apple community.”

Honey Hill Orchard is open weekends only, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., for pick-your-own. They are closed this Saturday, Sept. 25.

The orchard also has peaches and plums, and next month, pumpkins. Walking around with a plant identification app on her phone, Barker has also found olive and grape vines. There are plans in future falls to bring back apple cider doughnuts as well as cider.

Sabin has visited once since buying it. A ship on the orchard playground flies a Navy flag as a nod to him.

Barker said her son has at least four years left before returning to Maine.

Both he and Holly are alums of the Lewiston Youth Advisory Council.

“I think he’s going to be the mayor of Lewiston when he comes home, to be honest with you,” said Barker. “He loves this community.”

Jennifer Dolloff Barker, left, husband Jeff Barker and daughter Holly Lavorgna inside the store owned by her son, Sabin Lavorgna, on Sunday at Honey Hill Orchard on Ferry Road in Lewiston at the former Benoit’s Orchard. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal


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