Make a right on New York State Route 13 South from Route 20 and you will pass the sign for Rippleton, a hamlet south of the Cazenovia, N.Y. village limits. Tree-lined hills burst with red and orange hues, as the two-lane highway ebbs and flows southward to DeRuyter. About 3 1/2 miles after the turn, one arrives at Critz Farms, a 325-acre plot hugging either side of the rural highway.
Critz Farms, founded in 1985, takes its name from its owners Matthew and Juanita Critz. Its fields produce apples, pumpkins, evergreen trees for Christmas, sap for maple syrup and blueberries. But, Critz’s mark is made during fall with its Fall Harvest Festivals.
Fall Harvest Festivals at Critz kickoff each year in mid-September and stretch through the end of October. Visitors purchase a season pass — valid for return visits during the season — for $7.50 per person or $30 for the carload. Admission includes a token for the kid’s cow train and samples at the Harvest Moon Cidery (more on that later).
The adjacent hills and trees bring the autumn to life, but the sprawling space at Critz is built for children. Families are a tractor ride away from a pick-your-own pumpkin patch. Inside the perimeter of the tractor trail is an expansive play area with wooden playground equipment, slides built into an earthen hill, and a stack of hay bales for climbing. The aforementioned cow train sees a dozen wagons decorated as cows pulled around the grounds by a small tractor. A small petting zoo with pigs, sheeps, goats, miniature donkeys, cows, llamas, and a pony sits in the middle of the space. A kid-friendly haunted house and a rotating schedule of bands round out the festivities. Hot dogs, popcorn, apple cider donuts and, of course, cider are readily available.
Across the street from the farm is a massive corn maze that not only challenges you to find your way out but answer a number of questions that can only be found inside of the maze. I’m sure it’s nice, but mazes frustrate the hell out of me and my allergies. Let’s be honest, I’m here for two reasons: 1) So The Kid can play and 2) To drink cider.
Adjacent to the parking lot is Critz’s hard and soft cider making operation. The farm uses an antique cider press measuring four-feet square for both purposes. Apples are fed across rollers, washed and into a grinder. The massive four-screw press extracts the juice from the apples, feeding it through an ultraviolet treatment system and into bottles. All of it takes place in an open-air space where children can help feed apples into the hopper from large crates nearby. Across the room in the soft cidery is a kitchen that churns out cider donuts, cookies and other baked goods, and also acts as the point of retail sale for cider and their farm-made maple syrup.
Across the large outdoor wooden deck is the hard cidery. Harvest Moon Cidery opened its doors in 2011 with a lineup that expands beyond the basic sweet and dry alcoholic ciders. The menu of nine ciders includes a dry, champagne-like cider (Rippleton Original), a dry-hopped style (Heritage Hops), cider made with maple syrup that is carbonated (Four Screw) and non-carbonated (Glinda’s Gold), and fruit-infused ciders using blueberry, raspberry and cherry. This fall, Harvest Moon is producing Double Vision, an extra sweet variety. New for this season are beer taps featuring brews from soon-to-be neighbor Empire Brewing Company and nearby Good Nature Brewery. Growlers and bottles of cider are available for purchase. Since opening, Harvest Moon has reached a local distribution deal that places its product in local Wegmans, Tops and stores like Brilbeck’s that have a large craft beer selection.
So, why is the ride from Camillus to Rippleton worth it? Because it’s out of the way. Sure, there are farms closer to my house. Sure, there is hard cider. Sure, there are plenty of farms open this time of year (The Kid likes Rohe Farms in Onondaga a lot). The ride into the hills separating Onondaga and Madison counties is picturesque Central New York.
And, most importantly, Critz has a little something for everyone and a lot of something for the younger set.
Critz Farms is located on 3232 Rippleton Rd. (N.Y.S. Route 13) south of the village of Cazenovia. Fall festivals run Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. until October 26.