From pumpkin patches and harvest festivals to bountiful pick-your-own produce and cute animals, fall is the best time to visit a local Minnesota farm.
Here are some of the most popular spots to frequent, as well as a few that are a little more off the beaten track. You’ll find jams, jellies, honey, syrups, ciders, juices, pies, fudges, wagon rides, corn mazes, pumpkin patches, sunflower fields … Oh, and you might even come face-to-face with a “donut robot”. Make the short jaunt to these fun-filled farms and get in on some pickin’-and-a-grinnin’!
BLOSSOM HILL ORCHARD & FARM (www.blossomhillapples.com – Preston) Five-year owners Dane and Hillary Diede, head-up the family-run establishment; with “pie-making” machines Ollie and Amelia; Cari, “queen of cookies”; “shop mom” Darlene; and fall helpers Tam and Sue. Aside from numerous varieties of apples, the Diedes also offer tomatoes, melons, cucumbers, squash, and a huge pick-your-own pumpkin patch. “Our apples and veggies are organically grown. Pizza at the orchard is made from scratch dough, sauce and fresh mozzarella, all topped with local meat & vegetables from the orchard. In our retail shop and bakery, you will find our famous apple turnovers and pies,” explained Hillary.
BRAND FARM (www.brandfarmsmn.com – Farmington) Owned by Aaron Brand, the farm has been in business since 2007. When Mother Nature allows, Brand features cherries, plums, peaches, and raspberries. Additionally, pies, caramel apples, apple chips, jams, and syrups, can be found at the farm. Too, Brand has fresh eggs, beef, chickens, pies, crisps, caramel apples, apple chips, jams, syrups, and more. “We are a small family-run business. Because we do not offer pick-your-own at this time, we do not have the crowds and lines. We have lots of items available to choose from, including large bins of fruit, heaping full. Stock up on your winter needs for apples, syrups, and meats. I do everything in my power to keep our Farm Store line free,” Brand said.
FIRESIDE ORCHARD & GARDENS (www.firesideorchard.com – Northfield) Todd Harvey, brother Douglas, and sister Lisa Harvey-Reed, are owners and operators of Fireside. Their apple selection is extensive, and the Harveys make, pasteurize and bottle their own juice. They have pies, fresh fudge, and caramel apples. “We make donuts daily, which the kids enjoy watching, as they are cranked out by the Donut Robot,” said Todd. The good folks at Fireside also grow pumpkins, gourds, and a good variety of squash in the fall. They supply fresh cranberries from Wisconsin, and there are always tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers and corn available. They stock several lines of jam and jellies, local honey and maple syrup, salsas, relishes, and pickles. Their newly-remodeled facility boasts a new building that has extensive, outdoor, covered seating, enhanced by the beautiful, peaceful pond and rose gardens.
HAVLICEK’S VESELI VRSEK ORCHARD (http://havlicekorchard.com – Webster) Havlicek’s Orchard originated with its first planting of 150 trees in 1984 and reached 1,000 trees in about 6 years. “We have plenty of apples, but we also sell pears and surplus vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers from our large garden,” stated Denny. Havlicek’s Orchard is a no-frills family-run orchard that sells larger quantities at very reasonable prices. The setting is also very beautiful; surrounded by woods on a hill that is one of the highest points in Scott County.
HOCH ORCHARD & GARDENS (www.hochorchard.com – LaCrescent) Jackie and Harry Hoch, co-owners, have circa 100 apple varieties, however, they grow just about every table fruit that will survive in Minnesota. It starts with strawberries and honey berries, then raspberries, cherries, apricots, plums, grapes, and finally, the apples. This is the kind of farm that can be very therapeutic. A quiet walk through the orchards and gardens, while observing the animals grazing; can be a good experience for young and old. This is a place to see how food can be produced with minimal disruption to natural systems. Come here for the tranquility and a chance to be in nature. The Hochs Orchard offers no crowds, diesel-smoke hay rides, petting zoos, and deep-fried apple donuts.
MONTGOMERY ORCHARD (www.montgomeryorchard.com – Montgomery) Scott and Barb Wardell are owners of the 20-year orchard, which produces numerous apple varieties. They feature a 6-acre corn maze and the state’s best hayride. Too, their unique winery boasts specialty, premium wines and hard-apple ciders. “Our orchard is a traditional destination for many Minnesota families. People often come and spend an entire afternoon going through the corn maze, picking apples, and relaxing with a glass of our specialty ciders and wine,” said the Wardells.
NORTHWOODS ORCHARD (www.northwoodsorchard.com – Oronoco) Northwoods Orchard, with 30-some apple varieties, opened in 2002. Owners Steve, Patty and Jon Eckdahl have expanded into many other facets. “We also sell fall ornamentals for decorating, and pumpkins of every size and shape imaginable. Sometimes deciding on the perfect pumpkin can be difficult, because there are many, many options,” said Patty. The Eckdahls present two corn mazes; a small one for the younger crowd and school groups; and a larger one for teens and families. Wagon rides that take folks on scenic tours of the beautiful fall woods and lower orchard, are an overwhelming hit. Groups may reserve a gathering spot on the property’s patio, in the Backwoods Barn, or under a tent; while enjoying donuts, cider, and oodles of elaborate fare. “We also provide apple education and an animal area. Our goal is a low-key family-friendly outing for all ages, from the senior bus to the preschool class and families of all ages. We ask that guests leave their pets at home upon visiting, although service animals are always welcome,” Patty explained.
AFTON APPLE ORCHARD (www.aftonapple.com – Hastings) Frank and Cindy Femling have owned and operated the orchard for 30 years. Their annual apple festival this year is Sep. 28-29, Oct. 5-6 and Oct. 12-13. Magicians, demonstrations, and blue grass music are featured in the celebration. Including a plethora of apples, the Femlings also grow pumpkins, squash, and strawberries. “We have a large playground, a petting farm, Straw Mountain, a re-tread hill, Johnny Combine, a large spider web, and lots of swings and slides. And make sure you check out our 15-acre corn maze,” suggested Cindy. Afton Apple Orchard is a mecca for getting some good exercise, enjoying a fall day, laughing with the family, and learning about agriculture, all at the same time. Come and get crazed by the mazes! In addition to their huge corn maze, Frank and Cindy have made some interesting enhancements to the maze area. There is a “no-left turn” straw-bale maze, a rubber hose maze and a rope maze. Come enjoy the fun and don’t miss out on the scrumptious ‘Corn’cessions! Saturday, Sep. 14 through Sunday, Oct. 29.
BRIDGEWATER PRODUCE FARM (www.bridgewaterproducefarm.com – Northfield) John and Else Larson head-up the family farm, located just west of Northfield, on Hwy. 19. “We grow pumpkins, squash, and gourds, which we sell at our farm stand or through our pick-your-own pumpkin patch,” Else said. Bridgewater Produce Farm has a fall festival for the five weekends leading up to Halloween (a flat $5 admittance fee gets you in the corn maze, hay ride, barrel cart train, trike derby raceway, hay pyramid, corn-box, and other family-friendly activities). The Larsons produce circa 30 varieties of pumpkins, gourds and squash on their beautiful Northfield farm; and you are sure to find perfect, unique fall decorations. You and your family can pick your own pumpkins from the patch, or simply choose from the Larson’s pre-picked pumpkins. Don’t miss this fun-filled outing!
THE PEPIN HEIGHTS STORE (https://pepinheights.com – Lake City) The Pepin Heights Store has been a popular destination along scenic Highway 61 for decades. Owners Tom/Deb Ferguson, Andy/Ashley Ferguson, and Joe/Amanda Ferguson, supervise the quaint, country facility and property. More than just apple acreage, Pepin Heights Store boasts delicious baked goods, top-notch caramel apples, local gifts, products and décor, fresh apple cider, pumpkins and much more. The Pepin Heights Store has a history and location that warrant a visit each fall. Its unique location along the scenic Mississippi River loop makes it a frequent stop for thousands of visitors. “My family’s favorite time of year is harvest. Being able to share the fruits of our labor with our loyal visitors each fall, means the world to us and we love being able to put a face to where your food comes from!” – Andy Ferguson, co-owner.
TWEITE’S FAMILY FARM (www.tweitesfamilyfarm.com – Byron) In their 31st and final season of providing family fun on the farm, Tom and Colleen Tweite celebrate the Farms’ last go-around this year. They are open Saturday and Sunday, Sep. 21 – Oct. 20; and MEA Thursday and Friday, Oct. 17-18. “We have a 23-acre Fun Park and a 12-acre Adventure Corn Maze. In addition, there are wagon rides offered as part of the Fun Park, Combo and VIP ticket,” explained Colleen. Some of the items sold in the food court are made on the farm, including circa 27 flavors of fudge, roasted nuts, caramel apples, donuts, kettle corn, four kinds of cheese corn, caramel corn, six savory corns and 18 candy corns, to name just a few. (free parking, with no admission to the pumpkin sales area, the U-pick pumpkin patch, or the food court).
By Pat Garry