Fall harvest is a great time to visit Michigan orchards

With the smell of freshly baked donuts and hot apple cider wafting through the air, fall is a great time to plan a visit to your favorite area apple orchard.

With leaves changing and the temperatures cooling the fall season marks one of the best times to enjoy Michigan’s agricultural bounty. What better way to enjoy that bounty than first-hand by visiting one of your area apple orchards.

Residents of Michigan might be surprised to learn that our state is one of the top apple-producing states in the nation, ranking third behind Washington and New York. While Washington produces nearly two-thirds of all apples in the US, Michigan orchards have found their niche in producing a wide variety of apples, dubbed the “Variety State.” While orchards exist around the state the epicenter of production is right here in West Michigan along the Fruit Ridge.

The unique geographic location of the twenty- by eight-mile stretch of the state northwest of Grand Rapids creates ideal growing conditions for fruit trees, particularly apples. Many of these farms attract visitors throughout the year to their onsite farmers markets and cider mills by allowing visitors to pick their own apples or partake in other fun family activities such as hayrides or corn mazes. These visits can be educational as well as fun.

With a greater emphasis placed on local food-use in Michigan schools, apples have become a mainstay on many West Michigan school cafeteria menus. It can help give your children a greater appreciation for what goes into producing those apples that are on their cafeteria trays when they can see first-hand the places where they are grown and the people who are growing them. Michigan State University Extension has been working with local schools to help them connect with farmers and source more products locally. On the other side, MSU Extension works with farmers to help them develop strategies to increase marketing of their products and attract visitors to their farms through agri-tourism operations like U-pick programs.

These agri-tourism operations are a key way that many farmers, like area apple growers, supplement and diversify their incomes. Visitors may come to pick some apples, but will also partake in delicious freshly baked donuts, or walk home with a bottle of cider from the cider mill or wine from the winery. This on-site experience is also important because the money being spent is going directly to the farmer at consumer prices, without the time or work of traveling to market.

With the clear benefits of on farm activities and educational opportunities, not to mention the increase in revenue for farmers, spend some time this fall taking in the best of Michigan agriculture at your local farm or orchard. For information on places to visit in your area consult the Michigan Agritourism Association’s 2013 Directory.

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