Michigan Apples: Coming to a Tourist-Friendly Destination Near You

Cider and donutsAs apple consumers have changed their buying habits, apple farmers have changed the way they do business to stay relevant as well.

For many, expanding operations to include some type of tourist hook has been the answer – think cider mills, corn mazes, hayrides, and on-site retail for starters.

Stops at two West Michigan apple farms during a recent Michigan apple blogger tour, showed there’s no wrong way to draw people to your orchards, increasing name recognition and sales in the process.

Standing in long lines at Robinette’s Apple Haus and Winery to secure fresh donuts and cider is a fall weekend tradition, but it wasn’t always that way.

In the 1960s, the Robinette family found it difficult to remain profitable by selling fruit at wholesale. The addition of a cider press to the farm in 1971 transformed the family farm into a retail destination and they’ve been growing ever since. The Apple Haus followed in 1973, which allowed for a lunch counter and eating area. A gift shop was also eventually opened, followed by the addition of hard cider and wine. A tasting room opened in 2006.

Fall weekends attract families who enjoy the corn maze, bounce house, and horse-drawn hayrides pulled by a team of Belgian horses. Trails also allow for hiking and mountain biking.

Kare Greenup was serving up wine samples during the apple tour. She’s worked for Robinette’s for almost 25 years.

“It’s amazing how much has changed,” she said.

Andy Sietsema is a 4th-generation farmer at Sietsema Orchards & Cider Mill. He said his family’s farm doesn’t aspire to the size of commercial operation at Robinette’s, but has been working to attract people to the orchard and get the family name out to consumers just the same.
The Sietsema brand of hard cider is sold commercially in stores. Sietsema said he tries to ensure each cider is unique and he’s been experimenting with barrel aging in old Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout barrels and adding locally-grown hops to some blends.

“There are a lot of breweries I can team up with and they’re willing and eager to do that,” he said.

You can stop by for samples or to fill a growler up in the tasting room. Staying for a bit and walking around with a glass of cider in hand is welcomed.

“People come out and try hard cider and walk through the orchard,” Sietsema said.

Part of the orchard at Sietsema Orchards was cleared to make room for weddings and corporate events.
Part of the orchard at Sietsema Orchards was cleared to make room for weddings and corporate events.

A large clearing was created in the orchard itself as a space to host larger-scale events such as weddings or corporate dinners. A fully-equipped kitchen allows the orchard to host local chefs and put on a Farm to Table Dinner Series, which Sietsema said is a great experience for an emerging foodie scene in West Michigan.

Food, music, and fun delighted participants at the first-ever The Hard (Cider) Run this past August. The event attracted over 800 runners and Sietsema said he’s looking at adding a 10K next year.

It’s definitely not the same business his great-grandfather started, although Sietsema joked he may have liked the hard cider part. By staying small and continuing to innovate, Sietsema is hopeful the orchard will be in his family for many generations to come.

This is the last post in a four-part series about the Michigan apple blogger tour. Want to read more? Check out the intro post and two more posts about farming and production. Read all these other great posts about the day from fellow bloggers who took part in the tour!

Thanks again to the Michigan Apple Committee for having us along on a great tour of all things apples in West Michigan.

Photo credit: RSII Photography


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