Running Montgomery Orchard isn’t exactly simple – owners Barbara and Scott Wardell have full-time jobs and devote their weekends tending to the 21-year-old farm – but it operates under a simple mission: encourage outdoor play.
Scott Wardell explained they were inspired by Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv, who coined the term “nature deficit syndrome,” the theory that limited access to the outdoors leads to childhood depression and obesity. With this in mind, the Wardells strive to create an experience that keeps kids and families enjoying the outdoors for as long as possible. And they’ve made it pretty attractive, with pick-your-own orchards, corn maze, hay rides, music, and more.
The Wardells bought the land in 1997 and planted apples a year later, converting a bramble-covered pasture into orchard grounds. In the 20 years since, they’ve expanded both the variety of apples they grow and also how they use them; they now run a winery that produces apple and plum wines. They also regularly bring bluegrass and folk music to the orchard, and, each year, carefully groom a corn maze into an intricate design. Last year’s was crafted into a bald eagle shape: this year’s will take the form of a turtle.
Picking apples, of course, is the cornerstone of the experience. Montgomery has 13 varieties of apple, including Honeycrisp, Harrelson, and SweeTango.
“12 of the varieties were developed by the University of Minnesota,” Scott said, with three to four varieties available for picking at any one time. Barbara makes pies and caramel apples fresh every weekend – regulars know to come early before they sell out.
The orchard’s other key feature is its hayride, which gives passengers a view of multiple terrains.
“Our hayride goes through natural prairie, established by the [Conservation Reserve Program], and it goes through woods,” Scott said. “We’ve got spruce, white pine, red pine, scotch pine–and because of the trees we planted, the paths we cut, it doesn’t really feel so much like Southern Minnesota. It’s like a northern Minnesota hayride.”
Those who prefer to explore on foot or bike can check out the hiking and mountain biking trails that intersect with the hayride route. The Wardells compiled nature guides to introduce visitors to the environment they’re walking through and even award patches to those who complete the trail.
“Ideally we want people to come and spend the entire afternoon here,” Scott said. “That’s really what drives our decisions: how to create an outdoor experience.”
15953 State Hwy 99
Montgomery, MN 6069
Open Saturdays and Sundays September through October
More Farm Fun – Check out these other orchards, pumpkin and berry farms across Southern Minnesota.
Apple Ridge Orchard
- History: Established in 1977 by Vince & Ann Steffen, Apple Ridge Orchard & Vineyard has grown and now features U-PICK wagon rides and all the latest U of M apples, the new B-51 apple, and old favorite apple varieties, grapes and pumpkins. Apple Ridge now includes Corn Mazes, the Alpaca Barnyard, & fresh caramel apples.
- What to pick: Over a dozen types of apples, pumpkins and grapes.
- Activities: Navigate two corn mazes and visit the animal farm that includes alpacas and peacocks.
- Stand-Out Fact: Apples, Grapes, & Pumpkins are available fresh as they ripen thru Oct. 31.
47418 240th Avenue, Mazeppa
Open 9-6 weekends and 11-6 Monday-Friday, Aug. 25 through October
- History: An ‘accidental’ farm that began when an overgrown pumpkin patch, initially planted by John and Jan Ulland to replace a weed-strewn feedlot, began producing enough to attract friends and neighbors. Since 1988, the Ullands and their family have built Farmer Johns into a full-experience farm.
- What to pick: Over 30 types of pumpkins and raspberries.
- Activities: Take a wagon ride across the farm, play with the farm chickens and cats and pick up fall decorations.
Stand-Out Fact: Pick a gourd from the Pink Pumpkin Patch, and the proceeds are sent to support breast cancer research.
90537 273 St., Austin, MN
Open noon-6 p.m. daily from September 23-October 31
Ron’s Berry Farm
- History: Jason and Aleesha run the three year-old farm, named for its former owner. The couple manage strawberry patches, asparagus and a growing flock of chickens but have big plans for the farm, with cherries and other wild berries on the horizon.
- What to pick: GMO- and pesticide-free strawberries, from June to July.
- Activities: Visit the farm to snag farm-fresh asparagus in May and June; eggs are often for sale later into the season – call for availability.
Stand-Out Fact: Aleesha and Jason just planted honey berries, which taste similar to blueberries. The picking season will run June through late July.
9546 10th. St. SE, Eyota, MN
Open 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday
- History: Brenna and Brian Scanlan opened Red Barn in 2013 to provide Rochester area families with a farm experience that would be approachable and convenient. Brenna, who grew up in Rochester, remembers being curious as a kid about farm life. “Many families don’t have the opportunity to go to farms,” she said “ I thought it would be good to have people go to visit farms and see what it’s like to live in the country.”
- What to pick: Pumpkins right off the vine. Captain Jack and Apollo are especially good for carving.
- Activities: Take a pony or wagon ride, play in the corn pit, and meet the menagerie of farm animals including donkeys, llamas, goats, guinea pigs and rabbits.
- Stand Out Fact: During early summer months, Red Barn is open for school field trips, where each student leaves with a handheld pumpkin, and corporate team building events.
27251 State Highway 30, Hayfield
Open weekends through October
By Isabelle Wattenberg