Applecrest Orchards in Hugo, Minnesota just got its very own makeover! New owners Chris and Shelli Ellis are making themselves right at home since they purchased the orchard last November. They have 10.5 acres in total with 6 acres devoted to 1200 apple trees producing 30 different varieties of apples as well as a few Minnesota pear trees. Chris told us that they “did a complete overhaul of the property and brought it back to its prime” after storms a few years ago took out many of the fruit trees. The Ellis’ aren’t alone; previous owner Dave Graetzer graciously agreed to mentor them through their first season, and they brought on a part-time horticulturalist as well as a part-time agronomist, along with several friends and family volunteers. Needless to say, they are in good hands for their first season!
Running an orchard isn’t something the Ellis’ saw themselves doing but when Chris was looking for a research and development property to expand his startup farm tech business, AI Grow, LLC, he saw the orchard as the perfect opportunity for that business to “evolve organically”. AI Grow encompasses Chris’ dream of engineering and building fully automated greenhouse control systems. Lighting, watering, nutrient dosing, and indoor environmental controls are implemented through industrial technology methods. He is passionate about safeguarding the environment and his technology gives field farmers a solution for water recovery, containment, and moisture reduction. Essentially, Chris says the system “allows the farmer to repurpose, reuse and recycle water”! Chris and Shelli are also licensed with the Minnesota Industrial Hemp Pilot Program and are using their automated greenhouse technologies to grow Hemp with the hopes of one day selling hemp products in their farm store and at local farmers’ markets. When asked what he loves the most about this new adventure, Chris answered, “The end result being so positive, going from the dead winter to watching the trees go through the whole growth period and watching the orchard come to life.”
The Grand Opening of their newly renovated farm store is set for September 5th and will host a food truck along with plenty of social distancing activities for some outdoor fun for all ages! The seasonal orchard store hours will be Monday through Friday from 2:00 pm until 6:00 pm and weekends from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm, as well as special appointment apple pre-order pickups. Applecrest Orchards will also be at the Shoreview Farmers’ Market every Tuesday from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm and at the White Bear Lake Farmers’ Market on Fridays from 8:00 am to 12:00 pm. Customers will be able to purchase freshly-picked apples, pears, pumpkins, squash, jams, jellies, butters, candies, and freshly baked treats. Be sure to check out the different weekend food trucks and fun fall activities for the family! Chris and Shelli noted that the local community has already been coming out and have been overwhelmingly supportive.
For Chris and Shelli, the best apples in the world are grown right here in Minnesota, and it’s not a surprise that they are licensed growers of the new Minnesota favorite: First Kiss. They also grow other University of Minnesota stars like Honeycrisp, Zestar!, and SweeTango. Make sure to stop out this fall and get your share of Minnesota’s best apples!