Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Christmas & beyond at Apple Creek Orchard December 2, 2021

A gnome greets shoppers outside Apple Creek Boutique. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

TIS THE SEASON…to buy locally-grown apples.

Apples and wreaths for sale. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

Saturday afternoon Randy and I aimed west out of Faribault to Apple Creek Orchard, 5524 185th Street West, for a bag of apples. But we found much more. We found Christmas and, more importantly, the Christmas spirit.

A snapshot of the boutique. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

This wasn’t just about picking up a bag of apples and then leaving. This was about lingering and engaging in a festive setting. This was about chatting with co-owner Tami Theis, who welcomed us with warmth. I felt like more than just a customer. I felt valued. Appreciated. As if I was talking to a friend. And that gives me reason to return (beyond just apples).

Honey (and maple syrup) from local producers is sold in the shop. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

Tami and her husband, Kevin, are new owners of the orchard purchased from Dan Ableman. During this visit and a previous one, Tami expressed her appreciation for Dan’s knowledge and help as they learn the ins and outs of operating an orchard.

Holiday wreaths for sale. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

But the couple is also infusing new ideas into a family-owned and operated agri-entertainment business. Wagon rides. Apple slinging. A corn maze. Photo props. All were a part of their fall offerings. And now they’ve transitioned to Christmas.

A gnome peeks from behind a row of Christmas trees at Apple Creek Orchard. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

As we entered the farmyard, I noticed immediately the Christmas trees fronting the poleshed style store. I had no idea Apple Creek sold trees. They do—Canadian fir at $10/foot—plus seasonal pots, wreaths and garlands.

An example of Geralyn Thelen’s beautiful fused glass art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

And inside the boutique, which, yes, includes refrigeration units filled with bagged apples, there’s more. Clothing. Seasonal décor. Honey, Maple syrup. Gift boxes of local goods. And, on this Saturday, the fused glass art of Northfield artist Geralyn Thelen, who set up shop for the day. (She’s hosting a holiday open house from 10 am – 4 pm December 3-5 at her home studio, 2001 Lincoln Street South, Northfield. Guests are required to wear face masks. If you can’t attend, you are welcome to schedule an appointment. Call 507.581.1239.)

This Santa “talks” and moves. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

A life-sized animated Santa, standing near a Christmas tree and against a sleigh backdrop, adds to the holiday setting. The real Santa visits the orchard on Saturday, December 11, in a “Cocoa with Santa” by appointment event from 10 am – 4 pm. The cost is $20 for a 15-minute visit and photo with Santa. (Register on the website.)

Cider, coffee and cocoa are available from the beverage bar. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)
I set my cider down to take photos outside. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

Tami set up a Hot Cocoa Bar inside the store, with offerings of not only cocoa, but also coffee and homemade apple cider. I highly-recommend the cider. I stepped outside to sip my beverage while perusing the trees corralled in portable fencing and seasonal décor staged among straw bales. The cider, hand-pressed at the orchard and made with Tami’s special recipe (cinnamon, nutmeg and oranges), was probably the best I’ve ever tasted. I stepped back inside to tell her that. Eventually, the Theises will sell their cider with Tami’s recipe included.

Fronting the store, holiday decor and that welcoming gnome. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

And come June 2022, if all goes as planned with contractors, the couple will open The Blossom event venue. A place for gatherings—wedding receptions, holiday parties, corporate events, graduation parties (two Theis kids will be the first) and other celebrations.

In keeping with their agri-entertainment goals, the Theises are also adding a wiffle ball field, which Tami says her husband is especially excited about. They’ll also offer homemade pizza, donuts, caramels and that cider I savored so much. I look forward to trying some or all. I fully expect the Theis family to succeed in their endeavor. They are a team. Committed. Enthusiastic. Hard-working. Friendly. They bring something new to the Faribault area. Already, Apple Creek Orchard is drawing customers from all over, including the metro. The Theis family is providing experiences, which create memories and bond families. All in a beautiful rural setting.

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FYI: Apple Creek Orchard is currently open from 9 am – 6 pm Thursday-Sunday. Check the orchard Facebook page for updates.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Apple Creek Orchard, beyond apples October 8, 2021

Inviting decor and outdoor seating create a welcome seasonal setting outside the boutique/store at Apple Creek Orchard, rural Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

MORE AND MORE, MINNESOTA apple orchards are growing more than just apples. They are growing memories, meeting public demand for experiences.

Bagged apples fill a crate just outside the boutique entry. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Apple Creek Orchard, located in the countryside just northwest of Faribault at 5524 185th Street, is among those producers embracing that trend. Here, in this rural setting, visitors can find not only 21 pre-picked apple varieties—including popular choices like Honeycrisp, Haralson, Zestar, SweeTango, Cortland and the new First Kiss—but also Halloween Town.

Riders spilled off this wagon shortly after our arrival. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

That October attraction includes a Haunted Trail Wagon Ride (Friday-Sunday), Haunted Corn Maze and apple slinging.

I saw many families posing here for photos. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Last Sunday afternoon, Randy and I popped in for a bag of apples while on a country drive to view the fall colors. We had no idea the orchard had evolved into more than a place to buy local apples…until we pulled into the farmyard. There, next to the aged mammoth barn with fieldstone foundation, I spotted a seasonal display of pumpkins and other décor staged on/aside straw bales. Plus a photo prop.

Plenty of pumpkins are available for purchase. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Rounding the end of the barn, I saw more. Vehicles lined along lawn’s edge near the barn and the multi-purpose poleshed housing Apple Creek Boutique. And up the hill, additional photo staging.

A fun touch on the front of the tractor adds to the Halloween spirit. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

On this glorious autumn afternoon in rural Minnesota, folks clearly arrived here not only for the apples, but also for the experiences. Young families. Grandparents. Couples. Many boarded the Fun Country wagon for a ride through the property. Former orchard owner Dan Abelman steered the Kubota M5-111 tractor pulling the wagon. We chatted with him briefly afterwards. He sold the orchard to Tami and Kevin Theis late this summer and continues to help with the transition. He’s supportive and enthusiastic about the changes the couple has made. And ready, too, to be moving into retirement.

Hank the Unicorn, a popular photo prop for visitors. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

We didn’t go on the Haunted Trail Ride on a wagon named Josephine (my maternal grandmother’s name), but we roamed the grounds. There I found more photo props. Randy prompted me to sit on Hank the Unicorn so he could take, and text, a photo to our 5-year-old granddaughter. Already I was thinking, we need to bring Isabelle and Isaac here next fall.

The frightening entry to the hillside corn maze. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

While they may be a bit young for the 3-acre Haunted Corn Maze, I know they would enjoy the pumpkins, the autumn displays, the photo props…the experience…the time together as a family.

In the sunflower patch. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.
A path runs between the sunflower and corn fields with a vintage tractor parked field side. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.
Some sunflowers were still blooming. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

I got sidetracked also by a field of sunflowers, past their prime, but still a visual delight.

Details in decorating. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Inside the on-site store, tagged Apple Creek Boutique because you’ll find more than fresh apples here, I poked around. There you’ll find local honey, apple juice-infused meat snack sticks and sausage from Odenthal Meats of New Prague, caramel apples, cider, Grandma Eileen’s homemade apple pies, mugs, seasonal décor and much more. But we came for the apples, stashed in a cooler. I opted for a bag of my favorite, Honeycrisp.

Love the thought put in to seasonal decorating. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

In the future, Apple Creek Orchard hopes to offer pick-your-own apples. There are more plans in the works, too. Co-owner Tami Theis, a certified wedding planner, shared that a section of the poleshed will be converted in to an event venue, The Blossom. Also coming in 2022 are homemade pizzas, donuts and cider, plus a wiffle ball field.

Parked before the next boarding for a wagon ride. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

I left feeling excited about this new local option for families, and others, to enjoy in rural Rice County. To learn more about apples. And to create memories via the agri entertainment now offered at Apple Creek Orchard.

FYI: Be sure to visit the Apple Creek Orchard website for more information and the orchard’s Facebook page for current updates on activities and offerings.

Other area orchards include Trumps Orchard on Faribault’s east side; Montgomery Orchard, rural Montgomery; and Fireside Orchard & Gardens, rural Northfield. I’ve patronized each of these. What’s offered at each varies, so please visit their websites for details.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Experiencing a Northfield, Minnesota apple orchard October 23, 2019

 

THE CARNIVAL SCENT of donuts permeated the autumn air as I stepped from the van in the gravel parking lot of Fireside Orchard & Gardens. For years I’ve wanted to visit this Northfield area orchard and try the fresh-from-the-fryer apple cinnamon donuts. Apples were secondary to this first-ever visit.

 

Numerous rose gardens grace the property.

 

While many of the roses were no longer blooming, I found enough to dip my nose into.

 

Walking toward the retail store, I spotted this sign.

 

After stopping to smell a few roses in the frontyard rose garden, I aimed straight for the retail store and the source of that sugary cinnamon scent. The place was busy with people buying bags of apples, cups of apple cider, fudge, caramel apples and those donuts that couldn’t come off the fryer conveyor fast enough. Fireside also offers a lot more foods, including bacon ketchup (not made on-site).

 

Most of the apple trees we saw, but not all, were picked clean of fruit.

 

I figured I better sample a few apples first. I tried SnowSweet and Sugar Bee, both new apples to me, and the familiar Honey Crisp. Hands down, Honey Crisp remains my favorite apple, developed right here in Minnesota.

 

There are lots of apple varieties filling these coolers.

 

I watched donuts roll off the fryer.

 

The hardworking young employee.

 

By the time I’d finished my third apple slice, Randy had already purchased a half dozen of those coveted donuts. We headed out the back door, right behind the kid pushing a cart holding a crate of apples. His job seemed that of keeping apples in stock as I watched him several times hustle between nearby storage building and retail store.

 

A pond centers the grounds.

 

Ornamental berries pop color into the landscape.

 

An overview of the pond looking toward the orchard.

 

This place was abuzz with people enjoying a beautiful fall Sunday afternoon in rural Minnesota. Fireside is a truly welcoming place with assorted sitting areas, yard games and property open to wandering—from orchard to rose gardens.

 

Pumpkins aplenty…

 

Apples aplenty…

 

Gourds aplenty…

 

Pumpkins and gourds for sale add to the seasonal appeal.

 

I considered for a moment asking Randy to take a picture of me by the tractor.

 

Two parked vintage tractors present fun rural photo ops. This is just a relaxing family-friendly and dog-friendly place that is family-run.

 

The barn style building design is especially welcoming with covered open air spaces.

 

Within a half hour drive of the south metro, just 1.5 miles east of Interstate 35 along Minnesota State Highway 19, Fireside Orchard is conveniently-located, easy to find. A fun and beautiful place to visit.

 

A note posted inside the retail store from a grateful teacher.

 

As for those apple cinnamon donuts, they were a tad greasy, just as one would expect from a fair-type food. I’m certain I’ll return to Fireside. I love orchards like this that realize folks today want more than just a place to buy apples. They want an experience.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite apple orchard? If yes, tell me why it’s your favorite.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling