Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

 

Hit one out of the cornfield for the Minnesota Twins October 8, 2010

 

Montgomery Orchard celebrates the Minnesota Twins' 50th anniversary with a Twins logo corn maze.

 

HEY, ALL YOU APPLE-LOVING Minnesota Twins fans, if you want to test your Twins knowledge and your navigation skills, head to Minnesota’s version of The Field of Dreams at Montgomery Orchard, like I did last weekend.

Just a note here, before I tell you more about this opportunity. Please do not mistake the previous apple reference for any endorsement of The Big Apple-based New York Yankees.

Montgomery, Minnesota, orchard owners Scott and Barb Wardell clearly love the home team as they’ve created a six-acre corn maze in the shape of the Twins emblem. But that’s not all. They’ve developed a trivia game that challenges maze visitors to answer questions about the Twins at home plate; first, second and third bases; the pitcher’s mound; short stop; and right, center and left fields, depending on the selected maze route.

Since I don’t exactly like mazes, having once survived a terrifying mirror maze at Arnolds Park in Lake Okoboji, Iowa, during my teen years, I opted for the short Be-A-Mazed half-hour route. Fortunately, my husband agreed to lead me through the cornfield because I possess minimal map reading skills or sense of direction or knowledge of The Twins.

 

My husband leads the way through the short corn maze route. If you get lost and think you can just follow the corn rows to get out, forget it. The corn is not planted in straight-shot rows.

 

But my 24-year-old daughter and three of her friends, who had driven down from Minneapolis for the afternoon and who are the ultimate Twins fans, along with my teenaged son, opted for the longer maze with far more winding trails and far more trivia questions. At least one of the four women had brushed up on Twins trivia. I wondered, though, why none of these Twins fanatics were wearing Twins attire.

 

My oldest daughter, left, and three of her friends drove down from Minneapolis to navigate the maze, pick apples and rave about the homemade hot dogs from Edel's Meat Market, an on-site vendor.

 

Who am I to talk, though? I probably should not admit this. But since I am an honest person, I will reveal that, except for the World Series games in 1987, I have never watched an entire professional baseball game on television or ever attended one. I am the rare individual who really does not care about sports. I had come to the orchard corn maze simply because I wanted to see my daughter.

While I was there, I decided to exert some effort toward answering the Twins trivia questions. The problem, however, is that nearly everything I know about baseball history is limited to names—Harmon Killebrew, Tony Olivia and Rod Carew. I learned about those players decades ago from my eldest brother who listened to the Twins games on his transistor radio and who insisted on being Harmon Killebrew whenever we played farmyard softball.

I figured that long-ago role-playing and sportscasting would be helpful in the maze trivia contest. Plus I do know a bit of current trivia: Joe Mauer plays for the Twins. Yup, I figured “Mauer” might be the answer to at least one question.

But, after reading the first set of questions at home plate, I realized I’d never win this game.

Here’s the first rookie question I faced at home plate: Which of the following Twins legends are not in the Baseball Hall of Fame?  a. Harmon Killebrew  b. Tony Olivia  c. Rod Carew  d. Kirby Puckett

I had no clue. None. Nada. Strike one.

So, I moved on to the All-Star question: What American League catcher holds the record for the most All-Star selections?

I suspect if I knew the definition of “All-Star” that would help considerably. Strike two.

Heck, I may as well go for the Hall of Fame question: Name three Minnesotans that grew up to catch for the Twins.

Uh, yeah, so like I have no idea what positions Harmon or Tony or Rod played. Not even Joe, although I think he’s a catcher but I would need to verify that.  Sorry, Joe. Strike three. I’m out!

After that I decided to forgo the trivia and concentrate on getting through, and more importantly out of, the corn maze. As my husband and I wound our way along the rock-hard dirt path that twisted through the towering dried corn, I repeatedly asked if he knew where we were going. He said he did and I trusted that he did, although a few times I wished aloud for bread crumbs to drop along the path.

Or perhaps leaving a trail of peanuts and Cracker Jacks would have been more appropriate.

 

The Twins trivia questions are posted at baseball positions in the corn maze.

 

 

My husband climbs to a platform in the midst of the cornfield.

 

 

From the elevated platform, you get a bird's eye view of the corn maze and the countryside. Montgomery Orchard is donating $1 of each maze admission to the Twins Community Fund.

 

 

After completing the maze, head to the orchard to pick apples.

 

 

Or you can head to the store for pre-picked apples, local honey, jams, jellies, Cortland caramel apples and more. Peruse the wagon full of pumpkins from a neighboring farm on your way there.

 

 

You can choose from bags of apples lined up on the store porch. The orchard grows 13 apple varieties.

 

 

Musicians entertain inside and outside the store, depending on the weather.

 

 

Down in the pole shed, visitors can help make apple cider during a 2:30 p.m. daily demonstration.

 

FYI: Be-A-Amazed corn maze is located at Montgomery Orchard about an hour south of the Twin Cities and just south of Montgomery one mile east of the intersection of state highways 99 and 13 along highway 99. Regular orchard hours are from 1 – 6 p.m. Friday and from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Saturday and Sundays. (Check the Web site for Be-A-Mazed-At-Night dates.)  Last corn maze admission is taken at 4:30 p.m. and reservations are recommended for large groups. Cost is $6.75 for ages 11 through adult; $5.50 for ages 4 – 10; and free for those under four.

In addition to the maze, apple picking, cider making and entertainment, Montgomery Orchard offers a 1 1/4-mile nature hike through the prairie. A free adopt-a-tree program is also available for youth.

Click here for info about Edel’s Meat Market, which serves those delicious (according to the Minneapolis residents) hot dogs and homemade brats.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling