West Michigan flocks to apple orchards


Apple picking is more popular than ever during the fall of 2020. (GVL / Autumn Pitchure)

Autumn Pitchure, Staff Reporter

During this fall season, people are starting to regain some freedom with businesses like movie theaters opening back up, as well as the election on the horizon giving people the chance to vote.

But it is the lack of activities and bonding in the past with family members and friends that has driven people to a fall classic: apple orchards.

Most orchards in Michigan are open, allowing customers to join in on the fall festivities with warm apple cider, donuts and apple picking. One such place is Wells Orchards, a family-owned orchard that has been in business for 100 years.

Their sales have skyrocketed due to the increase of people getting out of their homes during the fall, especially given that the outdoor nature of apple picking makes it safer than activities taking place inside.

“We have been much busier this year than previous years,” said owner Michelle Wells. “We are probably seeing two-thirds more customers than we did last year.”

In order to stay open, orchards have put in place some guidelines for their customers regarding COVID-19. These rules are what Wells said keeps customers safe and everything flowing smoothly.

“All of our employees are wearing masks,” Wells said. “We have signs posted asking our customers to wear masks when they are in the building and we have all kinds of hand sanitizer stations throughout the store.”

Wells Orchards is not requiring people to wear masks when they are outdoors, but they do ask that people are respectful of others and keep their six feet apart.

Some customers do not feel safe picking their own apples, due to possible spreading of the virus from others picking in the fields. Moelker Orchard, along with others, are providing the option of getting your apple bundles all packaged up and ready to go, whether by coming inside or through curbside service.

“They provided bags of apples inside for those who didn’t feel comfortable picking,” said Grand Valley State University senior Emily Clevenger, who has visited a handful of local orchards.

Clevenger also went to Robinette’s Apple Haus and Winery in Grand Rapids, which features an apple orchard, corn maze and baked goods alongside staples like house-crafted wine. During her trip, she noticed the large crowds of people flooding through the doors to the orchard.

“There were a ton of people,” Clevenger said. “We were in line for donuts for 35 minutes, maybe even more. Everything was busy.”

Clevenger wore a mask and kept herself six feet apart from others in order to social distance, but at times it was hard for her when more and more people got in line. She felt very safe during her weekend outing for the most part. But others at times stretched the boundaries.

“I always wore a mask inside,” Clevenger said. “Everyone wore a mask inside, but outside people were close to each other sometimes with no mask on.”

The guidelines differ depending on the orchard, but for the most part remains the same: masks are required inside, but outside. With these rules set, it is still up to the people attending to be respectful and try and stay safe in every environment they encounter.

Some of the famous fall favorites at orchards according to Clevenger include picking apples, wine tasting, pumpkin picking and donuts.

“People are excited to participate in fall activities and are glad orchards are open even with COVID-19,” said Grand Valley senior Alina Pasternak. “My personal favorite is picking apples and getting other treats at the bakery, if there is one.”

According to Wells, Wells Orchard enjoys each harvest season serving their customers and are glad they are able to remain open this year. Since the demand has been high, orchards are trying to do what they can to be able to keep up and please their customers. Luckily, Wells Orchards is having a plentiful harvest season.

“We have had beautiful weather and we have been able to have a lot of people out here because of it,” Wells said. “We have a very nice apple crop, and we have lots of pumpkins in our pumpkin patch. Even though it’s our busiest time, we have a fun time with the customers and all the things we do here.”