Timeless Prairie's Apples will achieve full sugar levels and arrive at New Pi within the next week! Enjoy this post by New Pi's Customer Service Coordinator Genie Maybanks:
Local apple season is upon us! From the people who won 15 Blue Ribbons for their apples at the Iowa State Fair this year, Dave and Susie Differding of Timeless Prairie Orchard in Winthrop, Iowa, are dropping off their first load of apples at New Pi this week. And, they aren’t just any apples... They're Honeycrisp apples! But, don't stop there; they are Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon award winners, the best Honeycrisp apples in the state! They are sweet, crisp, explosively juicy — the ‘yummiest’ apple I know. Hooray for Timeless Prairie Orchard Honeycrisps!
One of the best parts of working for our Co-op is getting to know the farmers who grow our food. We meet them in our stores; we talk with them about their passions and processes. But the job experience gets really cool when we get to visit their farms. And because our food truly is local, we get to visit farms often!
Dave & Susie Differding (in blue and orange), talented orchardists at Timeless Prairie Orchard, with New Pi's produce team.
It was a lovely day in early July when a group of us drove the short route north to Dave and Susie’s orchard. Located on top of a sunny hill, it's surrounded on all sides by sweeping views of Iowa farmland. It is the perfect place for an orchard. Though, Susie and Dave hadn’t always planned to have an orchard there. It wasn’t until 2001 when Susie and Dave visited Susie’s mom’s farm, and it stirred her passion for gardening and drove thoughts of possibly being the 4th generation to work that land.
Dave and Susie live in Chicago. Well, they live there most of the year, where they toil away as commercial interior designers. Avid horticulturists on the side, they had great fun visiting orchards and vineyards, taking workshops and classes. They found joy on the weekends participating in a group called Midwest Fruit Explorers. They loved digging in the dirt and experimenting with new varieties of plants, and started their own mini orchard in their back yard with 5 varieties of dwarf trees. Their ‘ah-ha’ moment arrived: They could take their passion for fruit trees and turn a hobby into a business.
There is a big difference between hobby and business, however. Hobbies cost money; businesses have to make money. So, Dave and Susie got serious. They graduated from Michigan State’s Integrated Pest Management program, where they studied all things necessary for a quality orchard, like pest management, drip irrigation techniques, and appropriate balancing and thinning strategies. In 2003, they consulted the Farmer’s Almanac, and ordered their trees. When they announced that they’d consulted the Farmer’s Almanac for April and scheduled delivery of their root stock for the 4 day period that the Almanac predicted would be dry, the old-time farmers around them laughed. But wouldn’t you know it? Those were the only 4 days in all of April that were dry! They were in luck!
They planted their first Honeycrisp trees in 2003. And they waited. And they waited. It wasn’t until 2007 when they got their first crop that they knew they were onto something big! Susie drove a big box of their delicious apples to Charlie Trotter’s famous kitchen in Chicago and his pastry chef went nuts! He hooked Susie up with other famous Chicago restaurateurs and pastry chefs, and they had a swift little delivery business going. They started to plant more and more trees – 600 dwarf variety fruit trees to an acre, and they have 7 acres! They grow over 20 varieties of apples in all, including their Linda Mac, which just took the Blue Ribbon for Best Apple in Iowa this year!
Apple growing isn’t as easy as planting a tree, setting up the irrigation, and sitting back and waiting, however. “Sure, it takes passion,” says Dave. “People don’t realize how much planning it takes to grow the best apples.” There is a lot of work in balancing the trees, and culling the fruit load. We, the apple eaters, like our apples sweet and juicy, but we also want them round and big. To achieve the perfect apple, they have to thin out a few apples from each grouping on every tree. They examine the apples for spots, and leave only the best to ripen. They do all of this by hand. It is a labor of love.
On the summer day when we visited Dave and Susie, that is just what they were doing: Thinning the apples to ensure that the trees would produce just the right apples for us:
The product of all this education, labor, and love is what we get to celebrate this week as we bite into Iowa’s BEST Blue Ribbon winning Honeycrips!