In the mid-80s, the Lee and Sindie Holmberg farm had a few apple trees growing on it, but with the kids then gone there were more apples than the couple needed.
So, Sindie opted to pick some of them and sell them. Discovering an interest in what they had to offer, the couple opted to plant a few more trees – just to have a little extra cash for Christmas gifts.
What started out with just a few trees has grown to approximately 7,000 apple trees, with acres upon acres of pumpkins, squash and gourds on the farm as well.
“We planted our first apple trees when Lee and I first moved to the farm,” said Sindie from what is known today, on the 25th anniversary, as Holmberg Orchard in rural Vesta.
Sindie said Lee’s brother, a nursery worker in Florida, had decided to see if he could get apples to grow in that southern climate, but the plan did not work out.
So, the Holmbergs went down and got the root stock and planted another 750 trees.
“We dug the holes and planted the trees one at a time,” said Sindie. “There were five of us who planted them after the corn was in the ground. I remember it was a hot, dry year.”
Those first trees were planted with corn planter wire, which Sindie said made the orchard look nice, but the wind tunnel effect it caused led them to change plans when the next trees were planted.
“We had to bring in a water tank and water the trees because it was such a dry year,” Sindie said, adding that went on for two years.
The first trees in the orchard were traditional varieties, such as Haralson, Red Baron and Honey Gold, but the orchard has changed over the years, as other varieties, such as Honey Crisp and SweeTango have been added.
Sindie said the varieties they grow are based on the demand of their customers.
While the trees began to produce, the need for other amenities grew.
Sindie said the first apple processing was done in a shed on the farm, which, she added, would often cause issues, especially when the machinery would break down.
A garage was later converted to allow for washing and bagging, but even that got too small for the growing apple business.
So, an old farrowing barn was moved onto the site, and the family, including Lee, Sindie and their daughter, Holly, and her husband Mitch did the work of getting it ready.
“We painted the entire building white, because we thought it looked clean,” Sindie said, adding, with a smile, she never wants to see another can of white paint again.
Page 2 of 2 - The orchard building, where all of the washing, bagging, baking and other cooking takes place has been expanded over the years, and Sindie said she often had to push hard to get more room.
While that work was going on the orchard itself grew to the point where there was a need for added help.
While friends and family helped at the beginning, the need to bring on more help led the Holmbergs to bring on additional employees who do everything from picking the apples to baking the pies and apple crisp.
Others make cara-mel apples and drive the tractors for the wagon rides when visitors come.
Sindie said there are 20 people employed at the orchard during its peak season, and she said that has a big impact on the community. She also said the operation has always stressed the purchase of its inputs (everything from the items for its pies to the caramel) are purchased locally.
That use of local businesses is important, she said, because it helps the local economy grow.
Lee, who is the grower, is constantly checking the trees and looking for ways to improve the orchard.
He said there are 40 different varieties grown on the orchard.
He said the orchard was initiated in a time when farming was tight. He continued to hear messages during meetings he attended about diversifying.
To say Lee and Sindie Holmberg took that advice would be an understatement.
“We diversified all right,” said Lee.
Although the farming operation still includes some corn and soybean production, Lee called that part of the farm “boring” especially compared to the apple orchard and the myriad varieties of pumpkins and squash they grow.
This coming weekend, Holmberg Orch-ard is celebrating its 25th year of operations with a few activities.
While Sindie said they are not going all out, the activities are being held to commemorate the milestone.
There are going to be the traditional wagon rides, with Jessica’s ponies on hand Sunday.
Sindie said there are going to be clowns on hand, with other possible entertainment as well. A few drawings for prizes are going to be done during the weekend activities.
One may find out more about the orchard and the activities being held this weekend and during subsequent weekends in October by visiting its Web site at holmbergorch-ard.com.
Lee and Sindie feel very fortunate to have been blessed by the success they have experienced.
Of course a lot of very hard work and commitment has gone into making that success happen, too.