I Run an Apple Farm with My Husband and Five Kids—Here’s What Our Lives Look Like
This Pennsylvania farm family tends its orchard with love and joy.
Elizabeth Gregg Sewickley photography Farm and Ranch LivingIt’s harvest time at Emmett’s Orchard. Thank you for visiting our apple orchard here in our quaint town of Grove City, Pennsylvania.
Elizabeth Gregg Sewickley photography Farm and Ranch LivingMy husband, Joe, and I live on a small farm with our five children, Sawyer, 13; Larynn, 11; Clay, 7; Wayde, 4; and Wesly, 1. We home-school, and our school year lasts from December to August so that our kids are home and free to be a part of what we do here in the fall. As soon as the children are able, they take part in pressing cider, making pies, picking the apples, running the register, and their favorite: playing with the kids who stop out for a visit. Our parents and siblings also spend time as “employees” and help when needed. When we bought ground in 1997 and built our home, we had a desire to use the land in some special way. An article about an apple orchard sparked Joe’s interest. Much time was spent in prayer and reading, and we decided to plant a small orchard and see what would come of it.
Elizabeth Gregg Sewickley photography Farm and Ranch LivingOur cider mill and country shop have been open for business for 11 years. Over time, they have grown and become something we never dreamed they would. We have 500 apple trees, 56 peach trees, a gift shop, a cider mill, and an animal barn. We also make and sell about 1,000 apple pies and a couple of thousand apple turnovers during September and October. While there is much work to do all year, fall is our busiest season. We invite you to experience a little taste of what life is like at an apple orchard. (Try these other ways to use apples besides eating them.)
Elizabeth Gregg Sewickley photography/Farm and Ranch Living
Opening day is here!
Sept. 1 It’s opening day for the 2016 fall season! Joe hung “open” signs while I headed to the cider-house kitchen to bake pies and turnovers that were assembled and frozen in August. This month and next, people will buy fresh-baked goods from our shop and frozen pies to bake at home.
Things can get pretty crazy here between dealing with customers and taking care of our five kids. My mom, Bonnie, and Joe’s mom, Helen, help out, as well as another gal, Marie. Today we dipped caramel apples and made muffins, pumpkin bread and cheesecakes. Joe and Sawyer bagged apples, then headed to the orchard to pick a bin (about 20 bushels or 800 pounds) of Ginger Gold apples. They also separated cider apples from apples to sell in the shop. After supper, Joe and his brother picked more apples while I bathed Wesly and then put him to bed.
Sept. 2 The first days of the season always feel like a reunion when we visit with customers we haven’t seen for a year. The fellas sorted and picked apples while we gals worked in the kitchen. Mom and Larynn ran the register. Taking money and giving change is the best math class for my kids.
Sept. 3 Today our fresh apple pies seemed to fly out the door. I think that’s because we bake them in the stone cider house behind the shop; the smell draws people in. After supper, Joe went back to the cider house to tear down our apple washer. We replaced the brushes this summer, but the new ones were so stiff they bruised the fruit. We need to install the new soft brushes while we’re closed. This will be a big job; we pray for it to go smoothly. (This is how apple pie became America’s favorite dessert.)
Sept. 4 Our orchard is closed on Sundays and Mondays for worship and family time. I headed to First Baptist Church in Grove City with three of the kids while Joe and two boys stayed home to work on the washer. Thankfully they finished it by late afternoon. It runs great! We all sat down for a late supper and then watched a movie—one of our favorite family times.
Sept. 5 Today is Labor Day, so Joe didn’t have to work at General Electric in Grove City. He saves all the vacation he can for our busy fall season. The fellas picked and sorted apples and mowed grass. For most of the day, I cleaned the house and did laundry—an ongoing job with a family of seven. Since we weren’t open, I had time to fix pulled pork (from our own hogs) and macaroni and cheese. We enjoy our open season, but days off are special because of the family time.
Sept. 6 Mom, Helen and Marie helped me run the shop, bake and bag apples until 2:30, when Joe got home from work. Then he and Sawyer headed to the orchard to pick apples. Clay and Wayde did a lot of digging in our dirt pile. After a dinner of leftovers, the fellas and Larynn picked more apples while I made two batches of jar candles.
Sept. 7 My dad, Dave, stopped out with a latte for me and doughnuts for the kids before I opened the shop and started baking. That was his payment for giving him the haircut he needed. Tomorrow is our first cider pressing of the season. Per tradition, I will serve a special breakfast: doughnuts!
This is why you should buy your apples from local farms instead of the grocery store.
Elizabeth Gregg Sewickley photography Farm and Ranch LivingSept. 8 We wait to press cider until we have a few varieties of apples picked to make a good blend. Today we did two squeezes, which yielded about 200 gallons of cider. Joe and Sawyer ran the press while Larynn ran the apple dumper. They finished pressing about 8:30 a.m., then washed the equipment and emptied out the press cloths.
After that, it was time to jug. Sawyer ran the filling station, and the little fellas handed up empty jugs and Joe capped. I told our customers cider was available by posting on Facebook. Larynn sat at the counter labeling the lotion I’d mixed the night before. The rest of the day, I sorted, picked, baked and ran the shop.
Sept. 9 Joe and the older boys took off first thing to haul garbage to Tri-County Industries. We baked, picked, sorted, waited on customers and kept the apple counter filled up. After supper, Joe and the kids sorted one bin of apples. I put the little fella to bed, then headed to the gift shop to stock for Saturday.
Tonight proved to be a sad time as our 15-year-old yellow lab, Cider, died. Cider was a favorite of everyone because he could always be found lying inside the shop’s front door. He was truly an old gentleman, even to the end.
Sept. 10 Helen came to bake pies and turnovers, as well as to hold the baby when needed. Later, she and Larynn left for a birthday party while the boys picked Honeycrisp apples. After supper, we ran a few pies to Joe’s Aunt Connie and Uncle Ted (a real character) and to Aunt Betty. A storm blew in on the way home, and we ended up losing power until around 2:30 a.m.
Sept. 12 I left Sawyer in charge of three kids while I drove to town with Wesly in tow. My first stop was at church, where I practiced a song with Abby, the church secretary. My next stop was the grocery store, and then back home, where Joe and the kids unloaded the van and headed to the orchard to pick. Joe’s brother Eric came this evening, and they picked and sorted some more. Joe washed all the pressing equipment for tomorrow morning’s press.
Sept. 14 We love sharing what we do with others, so I was happy to lead the first school tour of the season today. Preschoolers and their parents walked with me through the orchard while I explained all the jobs involved in growing apples. We stopped at the apple cooler, visited the animal barn and learned about the cider press. Each kid received a goody bag containing an apple, an apple activity book, a pack of crayons and a sticker.
Staying up with the busy season
Elizabeth Gregg Sewickley photography Farm and Ranch LivingSept. 15 Today was another day of picking, sorting and running the shop. Wesly was up a good portion of the night, so he slept most of the morning. I may have gotten more done than usual, but I would trade a shorter nap for a good night’s sleep! Clay and Wayde spent the night with Helen, so Joe and I headed to town with the rest of the kids to grab a bite to eat. We also bought groceries for our upcoming festival and for making pumpkin bread, pies, turnovers and caramel apples.
Sept. 17 Today was crazy! The beautiful weather must have put everyone in the mood to be out and about. We had a hard time keeping up with baked goods and apples. About 20 young men from nearby Grove City College came to pick apples as part of their service hours. We served them lunch: meatball subs, chips and pumpkin sheet cake. I guess everyone worked up an appetite because we went through more than 300 meatballs.
Sept. 19 After Joe took off for GE, I placed an order for the shop and did household chores. I also brought the 12-month boys clothes down from the attic for Wesly; he is getting so big! I had a hankering for carrot cake, so that’s what we had for dessert tonight. Baking is one of my favorite things to do.
Sept. 20 The orchard is such a blessing to our family, especially since our kids are learning to work. But we’re still thankful the busy season is only a few months long. The shop is open Sept. 1 through Oct. 29. We then switch the gift shop over to Christmas. We hold a Christmas open house the weekend after Thanksgiving, when we offer cider one last time. We usually start pruning our trees at the end of January so we have time to finish before spring.
Sept. 21 I fixed cinnamon rolls for breakfast before the power went out—right in the middle of a pressing. Thank goodness it came back on after about 90 minutes and things got back on track.
I led a school tour this morning, too. The usual tasks filled the rest of the day. During the craziness, I took a few minutes to stick a ham and some potatoes in the oven for supper. It’s so nice to have supper ready when closing time comes. By that time of day, Joe and I are about worn out, but the kids seem ready to roll. I wish we could borrow some of that energy.
Elizabeth Gregg Sewickley photography Farm and Ranch LivingSept. 22 Dad stopped out with some breakfast; he knows that the way to my heart is through a cup of hot specialty coffee. I had a pretty big school tour scheduled for this morning, so I headed to the orchard with several of our kids to help. Helen helped bake the pies and turnovers and prepare snacks for the tour. Mom kept the apple counter filled. Joe’s day consisted of picking, sorting and bagging apples, as well as keeping us stocked with frozen pies and turnovers.
Sept. 23 Tomorrow will be the first of two Fritter Fests, so there was a lot to do today. Joe and I made eight buckets of fritter batter this morning, which used about 200 eggs. I think we’d better get a few more chickens. Marie came early to start dipping a double batch of caramel apples. Baking and sorting and stacking apples took up much of the day, so we’re ready for tomorrow.
Sawyer headed out to our church camp tonight for a youth retreat. Other children will spend the night, but Dad (who is the camp director as well as a pastor) will run Sawyer home since he’s Joe’s right-hand man on the press.
Sept. 24 Well, today was a busy one! We pressed cider while people watched and cooked hot apple fritters in our stone building. We are thankful for family members who are willing to work here when needed. Joe’s Aunt Jean and Aunt Lois spent hours cooking and bagging fritters and selling pints of apple cider. Eric helped sort and bag apples—a full-time job on festival days. My mom kept up with the craziness in the shop. Eric’s wife, Kim, grabbed frozen pies and turnovers for customers. My sister-in-law Vonnie cooked extra fritters when the line got long. Helen worked in the kitchen and took care of Wesly. Joe’s brother Scott helped park cars. Scott’s wife, Beth, held the little guy while I grabbed lunch. Joe and Sawyer pressed cider and jugged as fast as they could. I baked, dipped caramel apples and relieved the fritter gals. At day’s end, we were all worn out, but we felt blessed that God has given us a place we can share with others.
Sept. 25 We crashed this morning instead of heading to church as we usually do. I tried to listen to Dad preaching on the radio but made it only a few minutes into the service before there was a crisis with one of the kids. (This often happens around here.) After resting, we ran out to grab lunch.
Sept. 28 Yesterday was a catch-up day, during which we all worked together to dip apples, bag apples and bake. Today included a field trip for a local preschool. After the tour, we ate lunch and got a head start on dipping 250 caramel apples for Grove City College. Marie and I got more than half done, which seemed pretty good since we were also bagging apples, taking care of kids and running the counter.
Dipping apples and getting dirty
Elizabeth Gregg Sewickley photography Farm and Ranch LivingSept. 29 Joe, Sawyer and Larynn got up at 5:30 to press cider. We had some chocolate chip scones for our special pressing-day breakfast—working chocolate into breakfast is always a plus. Marie came at 7:30 to dip apples before we opened. We knew 51 preschoolers were coming at 9:30, so the race was on. After lunch, we caught up on baking and started dipping again to fill an order for 75 caramel apples. I may dip apples in my sleep tonight!
Sept. 30 We started the day by dipping caramel apples and baking. Joe picked, sorted and brought apples down from the cooler. Helen put Wesly down for a nap, then helped in the kitchen. Mom ran the counter (she’s a whiz at the register) and kept the apple counter filled. Clay and Wayde ran around playing with other kids, getting dirty and drinking lots of cider from the sample table.
After closing for the day, we ate supper, and Joe put apples in the cooler and stocked more cider for tomorrow. I ran to the cider house to drizzle the cheesecakes with chocolate and to package the results. We finally took the time to sit down as a family and watch an episode of The Waltons—one of our favorite shows. In fact, we’re on our second time through the series.
The leaves are beginning to change, and we are suddenly halfway through our fall season. This month has flown by, and we were honored to share it with you!