AUBURN — With the sun beating down, Pete Ricker was working the land at Wallingford’s apple orchard Monday.

After the unexpected death of fourth-generation apple grower Peter Wallingford last December, Wallingford’s Fruit House will continue this fall under the management of Ricker Hill Orchards, Ricker said.

Wallingford is survived by his wife and two sons, who will not be running the orchard. Peter Wallingford’s widow, Denise, declined to comment, referring questions to Ricker.

Ricker promised “basically no real changes” when the orchard opens this fall.

Customers will still be able to pick their own apples or buy them at the farm stand. There will still be donuts, dumplings, turnovers and pies for sale.

“The staff who wants to come back is coming back,” Ricker said. “The farm is still owned by the Wallingford family. The only real difference is that we’re running it for them.”

Denise Wallingford will assist the Rickers but will not be involved in the operation, he said, adding that his farm has a one-year management lease.

Peter Wallingford was 55 years old when he died unexpectedly in December. He was young, well liked and respected, Ricker said.

Ricker served with Wallingford on several agriculture committees. Denise Wallingford “ran a superb stand,” and he was a proud apple grower, one of the best. “We can only hope to do as good a job as he did,” Ricker said.

Ricker Hill Orchards of Turner owns land near Wallingford’s Perkins Ridge orchard. The two families have been friends for generations, he said.

Ricker wasn’t planning on expanding. Making money in agriculture is tough, he said. Maine’s weather isn’t the best for growing. When the crop is large, the price falls.

As many orchards have or are doing, “we had plans to reduce,” Ricker said. “This is an expansion for us. We feel it deserves a chance to continue. … We felt it should be here.”

The Ricker farm owners “did not want to see it in house lots. We want to see the land in agriculture,” he said.

Renae Moran, a fruit tree specialist with the University of Maine Extension at the Highmoor Farm in Monmouth, said. Wallingford’s is one of the more successful orchards. “It’s no surprise someone is taking over,” she said.

While agriculture is a tough business and orchards are shedding acres, the ‘buy local movement’ with consumers “seems to have caught on and is helping,” Moran said. And Wallingford’s location is a good place to sell apples, she said. “It’s near a large city. It’s picturesque.”

Officials were pleased to hear the orchard is continuing.

Wallingford’s is part of Auburn’s legacy, “and the city’s land use policy recognizes that,” Auburn Economic Development Director Roland Miller said. “I’m very happy they’re going to continue operation. It’s a resource people from all around appreciate.”

“It’s a local institution,” agreed Chip Morrison, former city manager and president of the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce. Morrison’s grown daughter, who moved away years ago, “comes home to go apple picking every fall because of Wallingford’s. It’s such a stopping place.”

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