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Picking Apples

Jim Madison  Author: Jim Madison, Chair of VNA Board of Directors

I have been very fortunate.  I grew up in the country with a supportive family.  I inherited many values from my parents, perhaps most importantly a strong work ethic.

We had a large garden, and would spend the summer and fall weekends canning and freezing as much produce as the pantry could hold.  My father planted grapes, blueberries, plums, pears and apples, and even dreamed of building a cranberry bog in the shallow end of a pond behind the house.  I admit that when I was ten, I would have preferred watching cartoons on a Saturday morning than digging potatoes and hauling them to the cellar in crates to be stored as long as possible into the winter.  Even worse was being sent down in January to snap off their sprouts to keep them a bit longer.  Not everything we did made sense to me then, but I realize now that I learned not to waste anything, particularly food.

Now over forty years later, I live in that family home in the country.  I still have a supportive family, though Dad passed away almost fifteen years ago.  The apple orchard he planted is mature, and the twenty discreet trees have almost twenty varieties of apples – many on the same tree through the magic (and hard work) of grafting.  In a good year, the trees produce a bountiful crop, many more apples than our family can use.  We give many of them away, mostly through the efforts of my mother who keeps a few crates in her car and is sure to distribute them to friends and acquaintances wherever she goes.  Over the last few years, we have found a new way to share the crop that gives us great satisfaction. 

Jim Madison plays with some of the kids from the Family Room during a recent trip to pick apples.

The VNA Family Room has programs that help nurture and develop the strong family support I had growing up.  The preschool and the Fathers and Children Together (FACT) groups have been coming out to the orchard for field trips for the last few years.  We pick apples and grapes, and watch the kids run around the same yard and orchard I did when I was their age.  The family members, coordinators, volunteers and staff help me make sure none of the bountiful crop goes to waste.

I love sharing my family home with these new friends, all working to strengthen families. It’s an appropriate setting, since the family support I received at this same home gave me the foundation for the full and satisfying life I have been blessed with.  The VNA Family Room programs help build that same foundation for many families.  Maybe next year I’ll plant another crop of potatoes, since I have new hands at the Family Room to help with the harvest!

About the VNA Family Room:

The Janet S. Munt VNA Family Room is a parent child center offering programs designed to strengthen families through education, guidance, mentoring, and peer support.  Parents and children learn in a variety of ways, from interactive play to classes and workshops.  Programs are free to all participants.  To learn more, visit

4 Responses to Picking Apples

  1. Pam MacPherson says:

    Nice article, Jim, and a heart-warming adventure for all. Madison generosity comes in many shapes and forms, this being one more! I say: Go for the potatoes!

  2. Jennifer Madison McNiff says:

    As Jim’s sister, I can vouch for those long days planting and harvesting. He is right that looking back, this helped build a strong and supportive family. I am glad he is willing to share both the orchard and his time for this important cause, and am very proud of Jim for providing the VNA Family Room Programs with this experience.

  3. Kathy C. Keleher says:

    Jim – thanks so much for this story – reliving childhood memories, appreciating the gifts that you have received and sharing those experiences with the kids was such a gift and I am sure enjoyed by all. So many encounters through the VNA enable us to learn more about ourselves and about the neighbors around us. Thanks again . kck

  4. Anne Damrosch says:

    I’d also like to express my thanks to you, Jim, for another wonderful Family Room Preschool visit to “Jim’s Orchard.” All those delicious apples we picked have long since disappeared into applesauce and crisps, but the children are still asking when we can go back and play on the hay bales. We all know that children more than ever need opportunities to enjoy simple play in the natural world– taking apart a milkweed seed pod, tossing pebbles in the pond–we could have stayed all day! Some of the families in our group are very new Americans. We told them, that now that they have been apple picking, they are real Vermonters.