Angela Coron of Poland picks out pumpkins Thursday at Wallingford’s Fruit House in Auburn. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

AUBURN — Wallingford’s is a name in Maine that’s synonymous with fall, apples and fresh-made apple and pumpkin doughnuts. The Ricker family, which has been connected with the orchard and fruit stand for generations, recently bought Wallingford’s 50 acres and folded it into the family portfolio of farms, which is now more than 400 acres of apples, spread over seven towns and three counties. The prize at Wallingford’s is the 25 acres of pick-your-own apple trees on the property, which is also home to an expanding blueberry and raspberry crop.

Peter Ricker took over management of the orchard and store operation at 1240 Perkins Ridge Road nearly 15 years ago, after the unexpected death of Wallingford patriarch, Peter Wallingford. True to his word, Ricker hasn’t made any radical changes. “It was a much more seasonal, very well run, very well respected, month-and-a-half operation,” he explained. Wallingford’s is now open from June 1st to New Year’s Eve, although the prime season is late August to early November.

Ricker says he felt there was an opportunity to offer more entertainment value to the local area, to expand on options for their customers. The Rickers were also operating Apple Ridge Farms next door to Wallingford’s, which had goats, a small bakery and the cherished rows of pick-your-own apples, which have since been consolidated and expanded at Wallingford’s.

The Ricker family, which also owns and operates Ricker Hill Orchards in Turner and Vista of Maine Vineyard and Cidery in Greene, has been growing apples for over 200 years, and Peter Ricker said it is a true family operation, with three generations of the Ricker family currently running different aspects of the three businesses. The Rickers are the second-largest apple growers in Maine and for years have competed for the coveted top spot with the Cooper Farms orchards in West Paris.

To say Wallingford’s is a popular place for families and others to visit is an understatement. Ricker estimates that on his busiest weekends in the fall season, between 4,000 to 6,000 people flock to the property each day. They go to let the kids run around, feed the goats, pick apples, meander through the corn maze and sip sweet apple cider or hard cider.

As the family expanded into hard cider, the next logical step was to create a tasting room for their wines and ciders, which you can also buy and take home with you. There’s a small space for private functions, although Ricker said he likes to keep them small.


Ciara Spofford makes doughnuts Thursday at Wallingford’s Fruit House in Auburn. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

As you walk toward the store, the smell of sweet baked goods wafts with the wind and invites you inside — where all the mouthwatering smells come from. A small but functional bakery pumps out apple cider and pumpkin spice and even chocolate doughnuts, pies, muffins and more. The store carries specialty foods from local farms and producers, and there’s a section just for kids with LEGO, Playmobil and stuffed animals.

Peter Ricker is a content, if not happy, workaholic. Apple growing is a year-round business with plenty of work to spread around, which helps when you have a large family support group. He’s at Wallingford’s every single day and still has other responsibilities at the Turner operation as one of the owners. Still, he says he enjoys what he does and it’s clear from watching his interaction with the young staff that he’s informal, but certainly not a pushover.

“I know there’s more to do than this, guys,” he says, admonishing a group of young girls huddled together in the cashier hut.

“I enjoy my crew. I enjoy working with my staff,” Ricker said. “I enjoy the constant challenge of trying to think how best to make it work … how to do it better.”


Growing apples is fraught with risk, and the wholesale aspect of the business, especially in the national arena, pits Maine growers against much bigger orchards in the Northwest, New York, Michigan, Ohio and parts of the South.


“Maine is an extremely expensive place to grow apples,” Ricker said, citing the short growing season and Maine’s cool, wet climate, which makes disease control more challenging and expensive. Apples and apple trees are very susceptible to disease.

Consumer tastes are constantly shifting and the big chains today want slightly sweeter varieties, which require a longer growing season, and they purchase apples based on cost. So, Ricker explains, orchards out West in particular have lower costs because of heavily government-subsidized water and less need for chemicals for disease control due to the dryer climate. Labor costs are also more expensive in Maine due to the higher minimum-wage requirements for agriculture workers.

“We just can’t compete on a national level as well,” Ricker said. Regional business is all right, but he said it’s getting harder. So, the decision was made to put a bigger emphasis on retail, which can be more profitable, by expanding retail options for people.


“As you grow, one of the things I didn’t want to lose though was the idea of coming to a quaint farm,” said Ricker, noting it’s a constant challenge to find the line between old-farm feel and still having plenty of activities and options for a broad base of customers.

An aerial view of the corn maze at Wallingford’s Fruit House in Auburn on Sept. 29 with Lake Auburn in the background. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

They’ve added the seven-acre corn maze but lost another smaller one to new plantings for blueberries and raspberries. Then there’s the hayrides and a food truck on weekends and an escape room, which is where small groups of people are “locked” into a themed room and must solve riddles, puzzles and clues to escape.


But what’s grown in size and popularity is the “Nightmare on the Ridge” haunted walk, which is more a haunted village then a haunted house. It takes about 30 minutes from start to finish and is sold out most Saturday nights and some Fridays, which is why they added Thursday nights. Ricker says “Nightmare on the Ridge” is nationally ranked – the best in Maine and one of the best in the Northeast. It is listed on, but there are dozens of rankings and lists of haunted attractions on the internet.

All of this activity requires staff, which has become increasingly hard for businesses of any kind to attract. Ricker says he hires between 30 and 50 people, mostly teens and twentysomethings with many of them working around 20 hours a week or less, because that’s all they want to work or all they can work by law.

After Halloween business slows significantly, Wallingford’s will post on social media that pumpkins are free for the taking. “And it is almost scary what happens,” he adds. People line up first thing in the morning and before you know it, they’re all gone. Some take them to harvest the seeds but it’s the pig farmers who bring in bigger trucks and scoop them all up.

Wallingford’s then turns to selling hundreds of Maine-grown Christmas trees and wreaths made by a handful of local artisans. Meanwhile, the goats go back to the farmer who owns them for the winter, as do the rabbits, and it gets pretty quiet up on the ridge.

One thing Ricker says he’d like to find is someone who can add special value to the Wallingford’s experience. “I’d love to have an older gentleman out there to just talk apples and explain apples to people, if I could find one.” So, if you know of a grandfather or grandmother with knowledge of apples looking for a side gig, call Peter Ricker.

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