They are new to the orchard business and Sweetland Orchard is the new name for the established orchard that they bought, Bob’s Bluebird Orchard in Webster, Minn.
“We became interested in orchard ownership a number of years ago when family friends who run an orchard mentioned their interest in retirement,” said Gretchen Perbix. “We thought for a while that we might be able to buy their orchard but by the time we figured that it wouldn’t work out, we were already committed to the idea. We were interested in how we would be able to make a living while living a rural lifestyle and being as self-sufficient as possible.”
With that in mind the Perbixs set about looking for the right set up to fulfill their dream. “One of the things about Bob’s orchard that was attractive to us is that his approach to apple growing was different than other orchards we’d been to,” she said. “Instead of growing 10–16 varieties, predominantly developed by the U of M, Bob has planted over 50 varieties of apple trees not to mention plums, pears, cherries and apricots.”
This means that the couple have a larger selection of early fall apples then many orchards in the area.
Gretchen shared a story about earlier this season: “At our first market last week, we had eight apple varieties plus pears, which is a lot more than most apple growers have at this time of the year. Folks would approach our table and say, ‘Wow — I’ve never heard of any of these kinds of apples before. In one week, we’ve already been able to introduce so many people to new varieties of apples, and that’s what we’ll be doing all season long. We have everybody’s favorite varieties — Zestar, SweeTango, Honeycrisp — but we have a lot of older varieties, too, that have a lot in their favor.”
Gretchen, who also works as a teacher, and Mike both have backgrounds in education and are excited to add that element to their orchard.
“Besides doing tours at the orchard, we’d like to develop ways of prompting people to think about apples differently,” she said. “We also want to do something educational related to cider. We also believe that an apple orchard can be a great place for family and friends and in addition to the educational things we’d like to do, we’re also hoping to do things like have apple-picking parties.”
Sweetland Orchard products are available each week during the fall at the Mill City Farmers Market. They are a great example of how the market changes as the produce changes during our Minnesota growing season.
Zoie Glass owns the Mill City Farmers Market vendor Lucille’s Kitchen Garden.
— 6 cups sliced apples
— 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
— 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons white sugar
— 1 tablespoon cornstarch
— 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
— 1/3 cup ground flaxseed
— 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
— 1/3 cup quick cooking oats
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Combine apples and lemon juice in a baking dish, coated with nonstick spray, and toss gently to coat.
3. Combine sugar, cornstarch and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Stir with a whisk to blend.
4. Add cornstarch mixture to apple mixture and toss well to coat.
5. Combine flax, remaining cinnamon, brown sugar, and oats in a separate bowl. Sprinkle evenly over apple mixture.
6. Bake for approximately 40 minutes or until apples are tender and topping golden brown.
Mill City Farmers Market
When: Saturdays, 8 a.m.–1 p.m. (thru mid-October)
Where: Chicago and 2nd Street South (between the Guthrie Theater and the Mill City Museum)