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Soucheray: Visit to apple orchard is a perfect fall prescription

I thought about buying some apples a couple of weeks ago from an apple orchard but I didn't want to drive too far. It was a Sunday and I still had lots of things to do before the weekend was over. I wanted an orchard that would be within a 15 or 20 minute drive and would have great apples. Then I remembered the Afton Apple Orchard, so I headed east and south out of Woodbury. What a beautiful drive on a gorgeous afternoon. And I was not alone in seeking out Afton Apple.

When I arrived at the orchard, I was greeted by cheerful, helpful workers who assisted me in finding what I needed. There were also lots of families leaving with arms full of apple bags, smiling kids, after an obviously fantastic day!

As I visited with Cindy, the owner of the orchard, and her daughter Sarah, I learned that this year marks the 20th anniversary of Afton Apple Orchard as a family-owned business. After our visit, I headed out to the orchard. I was greeted by a huge mountain made of straw, on which lots of kids were climbing and having their pictures taken.

Behind this straw mountain was the most gigantic play equipment I have ever seen. I have been to plenty of play areas in my years as a parent and nothing comes close to this apparatus in scope and size. There were dozens of kids playing on the numerous slides, tunnels, and swings.

From there, I found my way to the petting zoo, complete with donkeys, sheep, and goats. All of these typical farm animals were being fed by people who held their palms still and steady, so the tame creatures could nibble the morsels out of their hands.

Next, I heard the hay wagon come around the corner and saw lots of people with bags of apples, getting a ride back to the Apple Shack to pay for their purchases. It was an old-fashioned, yesteryear sight, complete with a straw-hatted farmer driving the tractor. The orchard has apples to pick straight from the tree, or bags that can be bought in the Apple Shack, along with lots of other goodies, as well.

As I glanced over to another section of the play area, I saw a small wagon for youngsters called the "Cow Train." Miniature, sweet carriages carried the little ones around the farm for a ride in the brilliant, September sunshine as they waved to their parents who were standing along the route. What a memory for them all!

While on my visit that day, I did not take advantage of the incredible corn maze. It looked fun but I thought I would save it for another visit. I wanted to be able to take time to have fun getting lost in the maze of corn, without a worry in the world. That day, I still had things to get done at home. Taking too much time getting lost in the corn would have been more frustrating than fun that day.

A trip to the Apple Orchard in the fall helps to round out a season that has the potential to bring such delight to our lives. The dazzling colors, the warm, sunny days, and the accompaniment of friends or family make for an enchanting memory.

If you decide to visit the Afton Apple Orchard, find your way to Bailey Road. Head east until you reach Highway 95, or Manning Avenue, and then turn south. Stay on Manning until you reach 90th Street. Turn east again and you will come to the Afton Apple Orchard on your right. There is a nominal fee for entrance to the petting zoo and playground, but the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors for an entire day with your family makes it the most incredible buy you could imagine!

On my way back to the Apple Shack from the orchard, I noticed a young couple enjoying a picnic lunch at one of the many picnic tables arranged for just this purpose. Their baby slept in the stroller beside them, their freshly-picked bag of apples rested on the table top, and the idyllic scene reminded me of all that is good in the St. Croix Valley and why we treasure this area so much.

If you go, be sure to bring a camera and wear tennis shoes. You may wish to call ahead to check out special events, especially if you have a play group during the week. There is just no better way to experience the fall season in Minnesota than to visit an apple orchard in the fall. Perhaps you will enjoy the experience as much as I did.

Kate Soucheray is a Woodbury resident