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Michigan orchard offers homegrown fruits, tours
By SHELLY STRAUTZ-SPRINGBORN
Michigan Correspondent

STANTON, Mich. — It’s a family business geared toward serving families.

Owned and operated by Terry and Gwen Anderson, their daughter and son-in-law Amy and Al Laper and daughters Carmen, Jennifer and her fiancé Eric Whitford, Anderson and Girls Orchards offers homegrown fruits, vegetables and family activities at its market and farm on M-66 just north of Stanton in western Michigan’s Montcalm County.

Recently, hundreds of students from area elementary schools visited the 200-acre farm to get a first-hand view of production agriculture.

Amy, who heads up the tours, said their schedule is booked solid in the fall.

“We can only do tours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays due to our schedule, but by this time of year our calendar is full,” she said.

“This is a working farm, so I want our tours to show people that. We’re not here to entertain,” she said. “I want them to see production and what happens here, and I want to give them a personal tour.”

The most popular tour stops, she said, are taking a wagon ride through the orchard and visiting the farm’s animals. Students also get to watch Terry press cider in the cider mill and sample fresh cider, a donut and apple.

With the ever-changing demands in the marketplace, the Anderson family added a small animal farm in 2000. Since then they have expanded the area several times.

From favorites such as ducks, rabbits, calves and goats to more exotic offerings such as reindeer, a zebra, camels, llamas, small Zebu cattle and Miniature Ponies, the animals are a popular attraction.

The animals and farm market “are the best thing we ever did,” Terry said. “The retail business has kept us going through the really bad times” when the apple market has been down.

Currently, Terry said about 30 percent of the apples produced on the farm are sold through their market, while 70 percent are shipped to brokers.

“Anything you can sell yourself wholesale is better than sending it through a broker,” he said.

Over the years, Terry’s responsibilities have changed tremendously. “I used to be out in the orchards, working with the crews, harvesting, trimming trees,” he said.

“Now I spend most of my time directing traffic,” he said with a laugh. “I spend a lot of time dealing with wholesale customers. I leave a lot of the daily stuff up to the boys,” he said referring to Al and Eric.

“I’d rather go out and run the tractor, but I can’t be everywhere.”

Terry also operates the orchard’s cider mill.

With stricter regulations that require cider to be pasteurized if it’s being sold off the farm, the Andersons now only make cider to sell through their market. They expect to sell upward of 14,000 gallons this season through the store.

“It’s become a niche for us,” Terry said. “It’s natural and people like that.”

Terry and Gwen bought the orchard in 1978. At the time, the majority of the apples grown were shipped to packers, while some apples, cider and miscellaneous produce were sold to individuals out of a building on the farm.

“The amount of fruit that a family eats has changed a lot,” Gwen said. “They buy more variety of fruits and vegetables.”

So, through the years the Andersons have changed their way of doing business to keep up with changing demands.

In 1996, the Andersons re-built the market’s main building to expand their offerings, including the addition of a gift shop.

The rustic two-story barn offers the feeling of an old family farm’s barn as well as the comforts of a bakery, gift shop, fruit and vegetables market and cider mill.

Cookbooks, jams, jellies, kitchen accessories and other items can be found nestled in displays throughout the store. In 2001 the Andersons added on to the main building.

“That fall it was so busy in the store the girls couldn’t even restock the shelves,” Terry said.

With Michigan’s lagging economy, Gwen said people’s buying habits have changed this year.

“They’re buying a lot of produce, but not gifts this year,” she said. “Our most popular items are donuts, pies and jams.”

The Andersons rise early to get a jump-start on their day.

Most days Gwen said she’s in the market’s kitchen around 5 a.m. getting it set up for the day’s baking and donut-making.

On a typical fall weekday she said they’ll sell about 75 dozen donuts. On the weekends, donut demands run 150-200 dozen a day.

“A lot of places sell a lot more than we do,” she said.

Throughout the fall the market allows its visitors to pick their own pumpkins each weekend by taking a tractor-drawn wagon to the pumpkin patch. They also will have one weekend where people can pick their own apples.

In addition to the family, the business employs six to seven full-time workers as well as about 35 seasonal employees.

“Everything is hand-harvested here,” Terry said, adding that labor shortage is a constant challenge for the farm.

“We don’t have enough help,” he said, “and it keeps getting worse.”

The Anderson’s farm about 200 acres, growing apples, peaches, strawberries, pumpkins, raspberries, sweet corn, squash and other produce. The market is open April through December.

Learn more about Anderson and Girls Orchard at www.andersonandgirls.com

This farm news was published in the Oct. 4, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

10/4/2006