By Jen Bakken
What began as a self-serve fruit and produce stand on the side of Curt and Helen Peterson’s driveway has become Fall Harvest Orchard where they don’t just sell apples they offer an experience.
The orchard allows families the chance to wander leisurely and visit goats, chickens, cows, and other various animals.
Where else can one take their children to visit a
hen house and pick their own eggs? Talk to a pot bellied pig, or roll around in a corn pit? Where else can one find family entertainment without an admission charge?
Fall Harvest Orchard uses things like this, as well as hay rides, as an educational experience by stopping along the way to teach about the apples and other items they grow. Riders are even allowed to pick a gourd and an ear of popcorn to bring home with them.
There are fun trivia questions scattered about. The apple house has snacks, crafts and more for sale, and the grill offers lunches on weekends.
It’s a hands-on experience, and children delight in the chance to use all of their senses. One area even has different types of grain and seeds, such as soybeans, oats, rye and barley, for the children to feel and learn about.
“I think we may have the world’s largest blackboard for children to write on,” said Curt Peterson. “It’s wonderful we can do this for families, and we love it.”
It all began in 1976, when the Petersons left their urban life in Minneapolis behind and purchased property west of Delano on Wright County Road 30 that had an old farm house on it.
“We were looking for a nice house on five acres,” laughed Curt Peterson. “We got a dump on 43 acres.”
For the next 20 years, Curt commuted to the cities where he worked as a social worker for Hennepin County. Helen stayed home with their two children, Tony and Sarah, and worked part-time when the children were older.
Together, they updated the farmhouse and other buildings on the property. Their land offered them the opportunity to begin growing crops and raising livestock.
After planting a few apple trees, Curt retired from his position with Hennepin County and, with the help of friends, Jim Christensen and Charlie Hogan, Fall Harvest Orchard was born.
“We started this to sell apples,” he said. “But, actually, only about 40 percent of our sales are from apples. It’s more about the experience than it is the apples.”
During their season, which lasts from sometime in late August until around Halloween, their parking lot is usually full of cars. This year, they are running about 25 percent below last year’s sales due to road construction.
In the past 15 years, Curt and Helen admit they have learned by doing, and they have enlisted the help of many area teens throughout it all. The donation boxes around the farm are proof that visitors enjoy their experiences at the orchard.
Whether one is looking for great apples, popcorn, pumpkins, gourds, squash, an educational hay ride, a jump in the corn pit, or a petting zoo Fall Harvest Orchard has it, and it is sure to be an experience one will never forget.
This year, the Petersons are offering a new apple that they are excited about. The apple, called “Swee-Tango,” is a cross between a Honey Crisp and a Zestar.
“I think it’s as good or better than Honey Crisp,” Peterson said. “We might be the only orchard that has it for sale right now.”
For more information, visit www.fallharvestorchard.com, or call (763) 972-3894.
This story is part of a two-part feature on local apple orchards. Watch next week for a profile of Apple Jack Orchards.