Last week I was invited by Michigan Apples to tour a few different Michigan apple orchards and a packaging facility to learn all about Michigan apples.
Did you Know?
Michigan is the 3rd in the nation for apple production.
29 million bushels of apples were produced this year alone.
Apples are sold as early as August. Ginger Gold is one of the early varieties available in the late summer.
There are 9.2 million apple trees in the ground in Michigan.
Sietsema Orchards and Cider Mill in Ada was our first stop. Sietsema Orchards is all about educating the consumers. The owner was very clear that you would “never find a petting zoo or bounce house” there. They want to offer a different alternative.
What will you find at Sietsema Orchards? Apples — lots of different varieties including heirlooms. They also are known for their hard cider. We got to taste test the cider, and I can tell you first hand that it was delicious. They are licensed to serve hard cider all throughout the orchard.
The orchard is also a venue for weddings, corporate events, and rehearsals. Lights on trees and electric on all four corners makes the orchard visible in the night.
Visiting on a chilly day? Their building is heated! Warm up and enjoy some donuts and cider while waiting to defrost.
Sietsema Orchards works with chefs and teams up with others to bring a good, quality, local food source. The lunch they prepared for us was very yummy.
Our next stop was Mark Youngquist Farms. While there we learned about labor and the science behind growing apples. I didn’t take many pictures because I was to busy taking notes on all the interesting subjects.
Mark is the fifth generation to take over the 180 acre family business. His grandfather planted just a few trees and started selling snowmobiles and raising some chickens. It has now blossomed into so much more.
Mark hirers temporary employment to help during harvesting season. By employing workers through the H28 program it allows the Youngquists to keep it in the family. It also keeps the family structure together. He provides temporary housing for his workers. The duration of their stay is about 7 weeks.
During my visit to the Youngquist Farm I found a deep appreciation for this program. Some of the workers are able to live the whole year off their wages when they return home. Mark said it best, “They depend on us, we depend on them.”
Mark is a character. Here’s a couple of my favorite quotes from him.
“I’d rather deal with weather than deal with the government.”
“Picking apples is like picking eggs. It’s hard work.”
Our last stop was Jack Brown Produce in Sparta where we learned about storing and packaging.
Jack Brown Produce has been in business since 1960 and has 75 growers that support the facility. They sell worldwide and about 18% of their product goes overseas although this number varies year to year. They package and sell approximately 100,000 apple bins in one season.
How do you keep apples in “just packed” condition when they need to be stored long term?
You pack them as tight as you can in an airtight sealed storage room at 32 degrees. This stops the aging process and puts the apples to sleep. You want to take oxygen out and introduce nitrogen instead.
Watch the video below to see some of their workers sorting out the “bad apples” or apples that don’t meet up to customers standards.
A big thank you to Michigan Apples for hosting me on this trip and for providing my transportation, meals, and a lovely gift bag.