Author: Peyton Ginakes
Last Friday, we took two labs and a student organic farm’s worth of folks down to La Crescent, MN in the bluffs to visit Hoch Orchards. It was an awesome field trip full of friends and food and, of course, farming! We arrived in the late morning, and enjoyed a potluck lunch along with an introduction session. Potlucks are easily my favorite way to gather – and this one did not disappoint. The food was plentiful, we enjoyed the farm’s delicious cider, and learned lots about each other and the farm.
The farm is run by a great duo, Jackie and Harry Hoch, and has been in Harry’s family for more than 60 years. Both Harry and Jackie attended the University of Minnesota – Harry for horticulture, integrated pest management, and sustainable agriculture, and Jackie for business and medical technology. They took over the farm nearly 20 years ago, and transitioned to certified organic production in 2010. They have worked with the U’s student organic farm (Cornercopia) in the past, providing fruit trees, and are very interested in keeping up with our sustainable agriculture programs and research areas. They also have interns, most of whom are international MAST (Minnesota Agricultural Student Trainee) folks.
Hoch Orchards’ specialty is apples – bushels and bushels of apples! Just walking through a brief tour of their orchards gave me an incredible appreciation for the work that goes into this kind of operation: grafting, IPM (integrated pest management), intercropping and cover cropping – not to mention working with retailers and the organic certification process. They also raise livestock, have a vegetable garden for themselves and their interns, and have on-site experimental greenhouses for fun varieties of blackberries, raspberries, hops, etc.
Farm management is Harry’s forte, while Jackie manages the processing/business sides of things. Their farm supplies several co-ops in the Twin Cities, sells at farmers markets, and has recently begun hosting u-pick days. They make lots of “value-added goods” out of both apples and their other crops: jams, preserves, vinegars, juices, syrups, cider, and also sell their meats on the farm. Soon, cider from their apples will be commercially available. Hear, hear!
Short of working on a farm yourself, I feel that visiting farms is really one of the best ways to understand farmers’ perspectives and to learn about the work and passion that goes into it. Harry and Jackie are open to group tours and showing others what their farm is all about, so if anyone out there is interested (or wants to just attend a u-pick day!), please visit hochorchard website.