Growing an Orchard - Fruit Research

The planting of an orchard…

4 years, 658 plants, 65 surveys, 11 focus group discussions, 14 presentations, 8 on-farm events connecting with over 514 participants, 1 fence-building - crowd funding campaign, and a 1,000 thoughts and intentions of good will later...our orchard is born!

A different vision...

touring our young food forests during currant events

In 2008 we began transitioning an acre of land to a mixed fruit orchard designing for sustainability while seeking to expand the palette for and production of locally grown fruits.

Using a combination of agriculture and forestry practices we set out to assess the sustainability of growing uncommon yet marketable fruit crops including: quince, black, white and red currants, saskatoon, seaberry, elderberry, and honeyberry. 

These fruits can be a catalyst for transforming and renewing the traditions that define our diets in the Midwest. All of plants can be sustainably grown from an ecological, economic, and social standpoint, and exhibit high nutraceutical content, so that they can sustain our bodies as well as the land itself.

prescribed prairie burn 2014

2009 - 2011 were years of disturbance and new growth. We conducted a burn on our 25 acre prairie, sending flames and stories well into the night. 

We also burned an acre of unmanaged pasture, transitioning a part of our farm to a mixed organic fruit tree orchard. The transition to more perennial crops using an agroforestry approach, will take a few years before the fruits of our labor end up on your table.

Our on-farm research and work is part of a longer-term regional project that seeks to establish sustainable production practices, expand regional grower networks, and processing systems and test consumer acceptance of these forgotten fruits. 

Resources for Getting Started with Fruit
compiled by our farm, Wills Family Orchard in Iowa, Sliwa Meadow Farm, Iowa, Mary Dirty Face Farm, WI

You can also learn from our successes and mistakes in getting our orchard established in our Final Report on Assessing the Sustainability of Growing Uncommon Fruit Using Agroforestry Practices

If you grow it will they come

Farmer Erin harvesting quince

Farmer Erin harvesting quince

In 2012, after catching up with farm friends, I had an ah-ha fruit moment. Our friend Clare with Elsewhere Farm in Herbster, WI, and Rachel with Mary Dirty Face Farm in Menomonie, WI and our farm discovered that we were growing the same fruits (saskatoon, currants, elderberry, and honeyberry), in the same phases of production (beginning), and facing the same challenges in finding local markets and figuring out price structure, we realized that our farms were well positioned to collaborate and we set out to find a way to work together.

We struck success with the North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Farmer Rancher Grant program and received word that we were awarded funding for our project for 2012 - 2014. The core of our marketing research is to explore ways to expand the markets and local awareness of small fruits in the Upper Midwest. We are focusing on our direct market development for saskatoon, elderberry, honeyberr, and currants. The low-impact nature of these fruits when grown using agroforestry techniques, should appeal to environmentally and health conscious consumers, and has already sparked wide interest from other farmers - we have led several orchard tours and field days in the three years since planted our orchards.

Access our Final Report for an in-depth look at results, fruit marketing options for our farms...

hardy kiwi pints.jpg

On our farm, we are motivated by our 286 trees and shrubs in our orchard that are already beginning to bear sizable crops; our 20 quince trees alone, when mature will produce over 400 lbs of fruit per year each. We face an impending marketing hurdle. We are learning from our CSA that there is universal desire for more fruit in our boxs and we have also had interest from Quince and Apple (a Madison-based jams maker) for using our fruit in new product lines. But a knowledge-gap exists for both fresh market consumers and larger processors concerning the desirable nutritional content and ecologically friendly nature of these fruits; indeed many consumers never even have heard of saskatoons or quince.

We have a broader goal and vision of helping grow the Upper Midwests local, organic fruit sector. As more fruit and fruit products become available, we will be able to conduct more pilot tastings. Furthermore, having more diversity of fruit and fruit products would improve the food security as well as the food cultures in our region, in addition to providing an extended income stream for our farms alongside expanded ecosystem services. We are excited by the potential our orchard holds for modeling sustainable production practices and introducing other growers to fruits which might make both their farm ecosystems and balance-sheets healthier and more diverse. We appreciate your feedback and support of our attempts at growing more fruit and building community.



As we continue to grow the community of fruit and flower lovers in our neighbor'woods' we are (re)-imaging ways for you to connect and create with us.

Look for seasonal opportunities to join us for a brunch n blooms, orchard picnic, and/or spend the night, relax, write, connect and enjoy being bathed in the beauty of rural Sauk County.

You can also contact us to receive updates on our fruit options, field days and events.

Our fruit research would not be possible without support and funding through NC SARE Program , with additional cost sharing resourced provided through the Organic Crop Improvement Association and the Natural Resource Conservation Service - Wildlife Habitat Enhancement Program. Special thanks to the UW Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, the Agriculture Innovation Center, Dale and Cindy Secher of Carandale Farm, Julianne Hunter with Future Deco DesignsFamily Farm Defenders, our CSA members, Dave and Diane Mikonowicz and other family and friends for your support, sweat 'equity' and encouragement with the project.