December Featured MCA Member:
Emily Chelate, Dole’s Orchard Box Shop
By Suzzanne Doiron, MCA Staff

When I visited Dole’s Orchard over Maine Craft Weekend, I was greeted by seemingly endless groves of apple and plum trees and a field of everbearing raspberry bushes, all filled with happy orchard visitors(and a crowd of cyclists) enjoying an autumn Saturday in beautiful southwestern Maine. The grounds were a sea of orange pumpkins, leaves, and still-green grass from a warm fall, and the smell of apple cider and pumpkin donuts filled the air as they were freshly sugared in an outdoor kitchen space. But the most satisfying perfume of all came from a small building tucked behind the main family farmhouse: the delectable, familiar aroma of freshly burnt wood that emanated from Dole’s Orchard Box Shop, a highly efficient workshop run by Emily Chelate and her small, dedicated team of makers.

For nearly 25 years, Dole’s Orchard and all of its many offerings have been run by Emily and family, spearheaded by her parents Earl and Nancy. Though the Box Shop started as a small scale experimental project at the Orchard in collaboration with Allagash Brewing Company, it has turned into a busy small business of its own. Emily, with her powerful gifts of artistic vision and foresight, paired with a state of the art laser cutter and engraver, has created a whimsical line of thoughtful gifts for all ages and interests. The Box Shop features products that range from tiny treasure boxes and layered ornaments to a large, intricate 3D advent calendars modeled after Boston’s Faneuil Hall; and Emily and co. have the technology to bring to reality practically anything else one could dream up.

A wonderful addition to the Center for Maine Craft vendor line-up, we are excited to see what new and exciting creations will come out of Emily’s workshop in 2020 and beyond.

When did you first incorporate Dole’s Orchard Box Shop into your orchard offerings ?

Doles Orchard has been in our family for about 25 years now, but the Box Shop didn’t come along until we started working with Allagash Brewing Company – we sold them fruit and delivered it in some of the apple boxes we had made in the off season to replace the antique ones that just couldn’t be repaired anymore. We intended to pick them up when they were done, but they bought a bunch to go in their tasting room as shelving. About 6 months later they asked who made them because they wanted to make a special box for their house beer. We’ve now made close to 9,000 24-case house beer crates along with a variety of other boxes and other fun projects.

Which is your favorite product to make?

The New Ones!! I get tired of making the same things – it’s a good thing I have such a great group working with me doing the production part! I do all the design work, and I have a lot of unique custom projects – along with our retail line, so I am always creating something new – thats what I like best.

What is your largest personal victory or greatest strength as a maker?

My vision.

What was your biggest struggle to overcome?

Sales. Marketing. You know, the really important stuff that makes a business run!

Where do you see Dole’s Orchard Box Shop in the next 5 years? What are your goals for the future?

Its funny – our agreement with Allagash was that we would make boxes in the winter when we didn’t have farming to do. I grew up working on the farm, and while I tried having a 9-5 job, being spoiled with the varied work of farming and being outdoors all the time made being stuck in the office anytime but during the winter absolute torture so I came back to the farm and this was supposed to be a winter job! The whole box business has been very fluid. We are learning what works and what doesn’t – my dad says just ask what he thinks will sell and do the opposite! So the next 5 years is a really tough question. My biggest goal is to find a place where we can be a little more comfortable during the winter months – things slow down a lot. I can’t guarantee all of my employees year round work, and I want that to change. It has gotten better over the last year or so, but we’re still not quite there.

Visit the Center for Maine Craft Holiday Showcase to see 3D wooden advent calendars, ornaments, treasure boxes, and much more from Emily and the team at Dole’s Orchard Box Shop.

Learn more about Dole’s Orchard’s pick your own and the Box Shop by visiting their website.