Photo by Caitlin Abrams
Holy jumping goats and tractor rides, when did it get to be orchard season already? I love this time of year, when we toddle our kids out to a local orchard to go apple picking, take in a bonfire, sweep through a corn maze, and jump on a hay bale while chowing down a cider donut dipped in pumpkin butter.
Many of my family’s fall memories took shape at Fall Harvest Orchard outside of Delano. After every visit, I’d pick kernels from the corn bin out of my son’s pants. But last fall, the orchard closed after its founder, Curt Peterson, died. My son, a large 12-year-old, sobbed as I turned the car around to head home. What I liked most about Fall Harvest was that it was a real working farm, with piglets running wild, chickens roaming the orchard, and patient corn-eating steer that let you pet their stinky heads. On one of the wagon runs, Farmer Curt taught my son about amaranth and flax. He made him pull the plants from the dirt and bite into them, explaining what they were and why he grew what he did. Sometimes I think with all the bells and whistles put on by many orchards during the harvest, the idea of connecting kids to where food comes from gets lost.
In July, I spent a particularly perfect day traipsing around southern Minnesota, taking photos and interviewing growers in their orchards for the “Cider Houses Rule” story (page 134). At both Sweetland Orchard (above) and Keepsake Cidery, there were tiny toddlers in tow as we wandered through the trees. I watched the kids play in the tall grass, herd chickens, pick apples, kick garlic, roam wild, and briefly live the farm life. Yes, I was jealous. But I was also hopeful for this next generation of growers who will learn from these modern-day family farms where the focus is on the quality of the food that’s grown and the products that go to market. And just so it’s clear, I believe it’s just as important to have the fun-and-games orchards as it is to have the working-farm ones. As Gretchen Perbix from Sweetland says, “Oh yeah, there will come a day when they’ll want to go to a corn maze, and that will be great fun!”
The best part of that day was coming home and finding out that our Fall Harvest Orchard had been sold with plans to reopen in late August. A local Delano family, the Sjomelings, bought the farm to carry on the Peterson family’s traditions, and also put their 17-, 14-, and 10-year-old sons to work. My son and I will be there opening day, cheering them on.