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Virginia orchard with 'too many apples' helps feed in-need families reeling from pandemic

 F.T. Valley Farm in Sperryville, Va. (Jay Korff/7News)
F.T. Valley Farm in Sperryville, Va. (Jay Korff/7News)
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Reporter's Notebook: The western edge of Northern Virginia is prime apple-picking country. One orchard is facing a unique problem. They have too many apples. So, they're working with Be The Good Project to get their bumper crop of produce to those who need it most.

“So, we’re in Rappahannock County which is about 2 hours outside of Washington DC," Kathy Penkiunas says.

Nestled deep within the Blue Ridge Mountains near Sperryville, Virginia pick-your-own-produce orchards blossom.

“The breezes that roll off the valley and roll through, it’s really peaceful, says Algis Penkiunas.

The owners of the newly opened F.T. Valley Farm, Algis and Kathy Penkiunas, are coping with a good issue. They can't pick their apples quickly enough.

“We realized how much fruit was coming in and then saying oh my goodness where is all of this going to go?” Algis says.

Settlers first tilled this land nearly 300 years ago. Centuries later this season’s bounty of 1.5 million apples off 12,000 trees is overwhelming even the most optimistic of planters.

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“This year has been incredible," adds Kathy.

Kathy and Algis Penkiunas, their children, and a small, dedicated staff sell plenty of farm-fresh Fujis along with nearly two dozen other varieties of apple. Their focus now is sharing their bounty. On the day 7News shot this story, we saw bulging baskets filling wagon after wagon of apples that were heading to food-insecure families throughout northern Virginia.

“I feel like it’s my duty to take care of my neighbors. Giving back is just a natural part of who we are," says Kathy.

This desire to give back stems from a historic trauma faced by Algis’s Lithuanian parents. During World War II, they nearly starved to death while eluding the Nazis.

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“During the day, they would flee and go into the mountains just to scavenge whatever was in the countryside whether it was grass, mushrooms, acorns, chestnuts, whatever was available," says Algis.

That remnant of human suffering, passed down through the generations, makes it painful for Algis and Kathy to waste anything.

Algis adds, “You see all these apples. And you’re like, they need a home. Let’s get them out to where they can help people.”

So F.T. Valley Farm is partnering with Be The Good Project this fall, donating more than a thousand pounds of crimson and golden fruit already to the Alexandria-based non-profit.

Amber and Sterling Marchand formed Be The Good Project at the pandemic’s height. They insist access to nutritious produce remains a crisis for far too many families.

“And these apples are going to go to local schools that high levels of food insecurity and free and reduced lunch rates," says Amber Marchand.

On this day, Amber delivered a big bag of apples to Groveton Elementary School students in Fairfax County who were learning, coincidentally, about Johnny Appleseed.

Most of the students we spoke with said they loved their apples. One saying, “Mine’s juicy. It’s sweet and it’s a little bit sour.”

Be The Good Project extends the lives of these apples even more by finding good-hearted bakers like Mary Brooke.

“Something I can still do for my fellow man," Brooke says.

She makes all kinds of treats for those in need: cookies, cakes, muffins, and more. She says people have always been there for her during her various health struggles, so to return the favor she spends hours making goodies for others. This cookies-to-be are heading to a DC homeless shelter.

“People are important, very important," Brooke says.

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“It’s really rewarding for me to know that these kids are going to be able to take a bite from the apple we grew right here on the orchard," Kathy Penkiunas adds.

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