As the air starts to cool and the leaves begin to turn colors, the weather tells us fall is fast approaching. For many farmers in the area, the days quickly become busy as they work hard to gather in their harvest. Two local farmers from Milford have created exciting environments for sharing the joys of their crop with everyone in the community.
Little Sioux Apple Orchard
Early in their marriage, Chris and Sharon Hoerichs talked about a day when they could create a destination farm. At the time, they lived in Maryland and this dream wasn’t a possibility. When they moved to Northwest Iowa for a job opportunity, they discovered land prices were considerably lower than properties for sale in Maryland. The couple bought their 160-acre farm at an auction, which was an unknown experience to them.
“Then we moved our house 17 miles from Spirit Lake, also something unheard of on the East Coast,” she said. “We settled onto the farm and bought two cows and some chickens. The cows’ first day was an adventure—as soon as they were unloaded from the trailer, they broke through the fence and took off to explore new territory.”
The Hoerichs’ four children grew up on the farm and have now ventured out onto their own adventures in life. The orchard is a way for Chris and Sharon to fill time and enjoy people.
“This orchard is a long, beautiful story of how we got to where we are today, but the short version is in 2010, we decided it was time to get brave and do something big,” Sharon said.
The Hoerichs decided to plant apples because it was an unknown entity in the Lakes area. The family planned in secret for three years until 2013, when they finally planted 1,000 trees on the north side of the farm.
“We even had the elevator come and apply fertilizer to the soil—they thought it was crazy for corn or beans, but Chris wouldn’t tell them why he wanted it,” Sharon added. “We opened in 2016 with just a tent and a table in the orchard. The building went up in 2018.”
In 2018, they also planted another 320 trees of new varieties.
Juicy Apple Varieties
The Little Sioux Orchard provides visitors with 11 different apple varieties, ripening at various times throughout the season. The first type is a “Redfree,” which is a very sweet apple and good for baking, applesauce and fresh eating. Sharon said, “It’s a nice versatile apple!” The next selection to ripen is the “Zestar,” which she explained is a big, crunchy, sweet tart apple and also great for baking and keeps well.
“Our biggest hit is the ‘Honeycrisp,’ but we like to remind people that there are other varieties they might like even better, so come often to try each one,” Sharon said. “We also offer pre-picked raspberries, as well as local crafters’ items for sale at the apple barn.”
Family Fun and Adventures
The “Redfree” apple was ready mid-August, allowing the Hoerichs to open for the 2020 season. Besides apple picking, the orchard offers hay rides to the orchard, hay bales for climbing, a five-acre corn maze, and an apple slingshot activity. The play area also includes sack races and a bean bag toss.
“The corn maze is always popular, where you can make it easy by taking a map or make it super challenging by trying to find all of the marked corners and come back with the right total for a prize,” Sharon said.
One of the biggest additions to the orchard this year was an upgraded bathroom. Sharon said it’s been a big project, but well worth the work. They also added several new items to the play area.
The Little Sioux Orchard is an obvious must-visit for apple picking, but they also encourage people to consider hosting birthday parties, corporate retreats, and team-building activities with them.
The only pick-your-own apple orchard in the Iowa Great Lakes Area, the Little Sioux Orchard is open from mid-August through October on Saturdays 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sundays 12-4 p.m. and during the week by appointment.
“We are almost always available, so don’t hesitate to call at the last minute if you get the urge to come,” Sharon said.
Located at 2618 160th Avenue, Milford, IA, Little Sioux Orchard also has a corn maze, hay rides, and other fun activities for the family to enjoy! For more information, follow them on Facebook, visit littlesiouxorchard.com, or call (712) 320-8707.
The Grove Pumpkin Patch
Taryn Kurpgeweit has always enjoyed fall and has wonderful memories of visiting a local pumpkin patch every year with her family, near her childhood home in Nebraska. The dream of owning a pumpkin patch has always stayed with her, but has never really seemed a possibility.
“I imagined a pumpkin patch where families and friends could connect with each other and have fun—the idea was exciting to me,” Taryn said. “I’ve dreamed of this opportunity for many years, but when Ben and I moved to this area a little over a year ago, it wasn’t anywhere on my radar. I had no idea what this area had in store for our family. We found this property in Milford four months after first moving to Spirit Lake, and I knew instantly it was time to let this dream unfold.”
With The Grove becoming actual reality, Taryn’s entire family has come together to get it ready for opening. Ben and Taryn have put in long hours after their other jobs, and Taryn’s father has come from Nebraska to build the slides, launch stations, and yard games. Ben has plowed and leveled the ground and put the watering system and bins together, while Taryn has been planting, weeding, and painting. Their daughters have picked up rocks in the pumpkin patch and buried tires in “Fort Tread.”
“Of course, we’ve had so much fun testing out all the things we’ve built,” said Taryn. “For instance, one of the slides we built has now become our girls’ favorite slip-n-slide, or as they say, ‘We cleaned the slide for you.‘ When we go outside to work in the patch with no electronics or chaos around us, I soak up the family conversations that happen in the middle of growing pumpkins. It’s amazing.”
The Pumpkin Patch
The Grove will offer their visitors different types of pumpkins, coming in all sizes and colors. Taryn took agricultural classes to learn as much as possible about growing pumpkins, as well as more about the growing process for next year.
“I also really want input from the community to know what colors and sizes they would like to see in the future at the pumpkin patch,” Taryn said.
There will be an entry fee for visitors that will include participation in many of the activities. Besides going into the pumpkin patch, the entry fee will also cover a corn maze, ropes course, giant slides, a trike track, a corn pit, a hamster wheel, rubber duck races, ball slingshot game, face painting, fire pits to sit around, various yard games, and photo opportunities. There will be additional fees for a train ride, pumpkin purchases, paintball slingshot, food, and beverages.
“We are trying to get a petting zoo at The Grove, too, which would be included in the entry fee, but we need to get insurance issues resolved before we can commit to it,” Taryn shared. “We also are working with some area food trucks to be at The Grove, and we’ll have what we call ‘The Hideout,’ witch will include beverages and snacks like gourmet popcorn, donuts, and items to make your own s’mores at the fire pits.”
Besides these ongoing games and activities, The Grove will have special events scheduled for each weekend. For example, the Kurpgeweits are planning “The Grove Olympics,” with dizzy bat races, 3- and 4-legged races and more. Another weekend, the pumpkin patch will feature a Fall Festival with pumpkin painting, pumpkin carving, and a pie eating contest. “And for our finale, we’re hoping to have a super eerie “The Grove After Dark” on Friday and Saturday night, the weekend of Halloween,” she added.
Taryn said the entire Iowa Great Lakes community has been so supportive of this dream coming true. “My husband and I are constantly saying how kind and helpful people are here,” she said.
The family has had people drop off grass clippings for the pumpkin patch. Others have said they have hay bales they’d love to give them or donated corn seeds for the corn maze. Some have reached out to paint signs for them. Neid Equipment has helped by tearing down bins, moving them, and putting them back up. “We’ve had someone donate trikes for our trike track! We’ve even been able to use Total Lawn Care’s skid loader,” Taryn added. “It’s truly amazing how this community comes together to make something a reality. We are so humbled and appreciative.”
“I really want to include people that are from the area in The Grove’s evolution every year so they can have what they want within our community,” Taryn continued. “We are on Instagram and Facebook (@thegroveokoboji) and would love to get input through comments or by private messaging us. We want to know what new activities and events they’d like to see and what they don’t want to see in the future. We want The Grove to be a place where people enjoy going with family and friends year after year.”
Where you’ll want to gather this fall, The Grove pumpkin patch will be open Sept. 19-Oct. 31 every weekend from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. (except open later on October 30 and 31 for “The Grove After Dark”).
12 and older will be $10, ages 2-11 will be $8 and those under 2 will be free. “The Grove After Dark” will be $5/person.
Located just west of Milford, The Grove will be found at 2071 220th Street Milford, IA 51351. More information can be found on their Facebook and Instagram pages.