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Picking season underway at Afton Apple

Middleton Elementary kindergarten students took a field trip to Afton Apple, in Denmark Township, on Oct. 2 where they learned about the orchard and picked a few apples off the trees.

Everyone has their favorite thing about the fall - cooling weather, falling leaves, pumpkin pie and, of course, apples.

"It's beautiful this time of year," said Cindy Femling, owner of Afton Apple in Denmark Township. "Being able to walk outside and pick your own apples, play on the playground and take a hay ride is a great fall activity - it's just the idea of being out in Mother Nature."

Middleton Elementary kindergarten students visited Afton Apple on Oct. 2.

Afton Apple, which opened in 1989, has a total of 200 acres on its property, including 70 acres of "pick your own" apples, raspberries and pumpkins. The orchard also includes a petting zoo, corn maze, playground and an "Apple Shack" where customers can buy pre-picked applies, apple cider, apple-baked goods and other apple-related products.

Afton Apple has many varieties of apples to pick including: Paul Red, Zestar, Red Baron, Estival, McIntosh, Sweet 16, Cortland, Spartan, Haralson, Honey Gold, Regent and Connell Red.

The orchard also carries Honeycrisp apples in its Apple Shack, but they are not available for "pick your own" due to the short harvest time.

This year's crop

Femling said this year's apple crop is shaping up to be a good one so far.

In fact, this year's apples are about one to three weeks ahead of schedule given the warm weather earlier this spring.

"The weather's been real nice," she said.

However, some of the early varieties - Paul Red, McIntosh and Cortland - are a little lighter because of a late frost in April.

"So far, so good," Femling said. "Some of the crops are a little lighter because of that freeze we had in April, but we didn't lose everything, so we're doing OK.

"There are some orchards that don't have any apples; we lucked out by having a decent crop."

Femling said some of the crop also received hail damage and rain damage, which leaves copper lines on the skin of the apples.

"It's been a real strange year for weather," she said. "We got a lot of rain and now it's dry. There's nothing you can do about it."

The rain damaged apples are still edible though, Femling said.

"It's just the skin," she said. "They just look ugly."

Since the apples started the season early, Femling said the "pick your own" apple season, which typically lasts through Halloween, will wrap a bit sooner.

"But we'll still be open and we've got pumpkins and we're still doing raspberries," she said.

During the Middleton Elementary visit to Afton Apple last week, students took a hay ride out into the orchard where they learned a bit about the apples and picked a few apples off the tree and out of big apple barrels.

Students were also able to pick their own pumpkins and try a little freshly squeezed cider.

"Visiting the orchard is about seeing where their food comes from and how much work goes into one apple," said Middleton kindergarten teacher Jill Hildebrand. "It's a fun real life experience for them.

"Their favorite part is definitely picking the apples off the tree."

Femling said Afton Apples sees between 10,000 and 15,000 children, as part of groups, come through the orchard every year.

Visiting the apple orchard is a great experience for children, Femling said.

"The kids learn that apples grow on trees," she said. "Maybe some of the inner city kids, who don't have trees in their backyard, don't know that apples grow on trees.

"They've seen it in a book, but to actually experience it is something different - actually experiencing it and picking your own is a whole new experience for them."

Afton Apple will be hosting its Apple and Pumpkin Festival this weekend, Oct. 13-14, and next weekend, Oct. 20-21, which will include apple picking, face painting, hay rides, petting zoo, cider press demonstrations, a balloonologist, chainsaw carving, live music and the corn maze. Admission is $3 for ages 5 and up and $2 for ages 4 and under. Afton Apple is open seven days a week.

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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