Since 1989, the Afton Apple Orchard has been owned and run by the Femling family. Located in the heart of the St. Croix Valley, it was originally included in a three-part “corporate farm” consisting of a farm in Rosemount, another in Eden Prairie, and the 190 acres the Femlings would purchase. After much work and planning, the family developed the farmland into a popular Minnesota destination for strawberries, raspberries, pumpkins, apples, and more.
This year Afton Apple Orchard celebrated its 32 year anniversary — may there be many more to come!
A Brooklyn Park Boy’s Dream
Frank Fleming grew up in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. Many of his childhood friends came from families of potato farmers, so it’s not unexpected that Frank would have the idea to acquire his own farm one day. Years later, he would see a three-line ad in a local paper about some farmland for sale in Denmark Township. He and his wife, Cindy, made a 40-mile trip from their home in Blaine to go see the property for themselves.
At first, Cindy was unconvinced a farm was something that a couple with a 14 year-old son and a two year-old daughter could take on. In a 2014 interview with Republican Eagle, Cindy said “I didn’t even get out of the car” when she and Frank arrived at the property.
But Frank believed otherwise. In the same interview, he told the reporter “It was too good of a bargain to pass up” and, in 1989, the Femlings became the new owners of a farm.
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Great Expectations Take Lots of Equipment
When the original three-part corporate farm the Femlings’ property had been part of disbanded, one of the original investors purchased the Denmark Township land. But rather than farm the land, the owner simply maintained it. What this meant is that after closing on the property, the Femlings had a lot of hard work ahead of them to create an actual working farm.
Most gardeners use rakes, shovels, shears, and weed-eaters for landscape transformation. The Femlings used backhoes and chainsaws. Untamed parts of the land had to be cultivated for growing crops and even trees had to be replanted. It would be several years before Frank would see his dream farm actually taking shape.
The Start of Afton Apple Orchard
One of the first new additions to the farm was a 400 square-foot building erected a year after the Femlings bought the land. The large apple cutout that accented the door earned the nickname, “apple building,” for the structure. Later the apple building would be used in the farm’s strawberry field.
In 2000 the 3,000 square-foot main building of the farm was constructed. This building serves as the entry where guests make their way onto the farm grounds and it’s also where customers can buy various food items for sale at the farm. To the delight of the youngest visitors, other attractions later added to the farm included a huge playground and a petting zoo.
People Began To Notice
From the start, Afton Apple Orchard marketed itself as a pick-your-own apple farm. The apple trees were also harvested for selling fruit wholesale in Twin Cities markets. At first, the u-pick business was a little slow. In the Republican Eagle interview, Cindy shared that, in the beginning, she crocheted and read a lot — since mopping floors only took so much time.
But Minnesotans do love apple picking and eventually word spread about Afton Apple Orchard. Over time, the apple season visitor count grew to 50,000 from August through October. It’s probably been many years since Cindy’s had time for crocheting or reading during the day!
Today the orchard is so popular that it offers weekday specials to encourage guests to visit on weekdays — weekends are the most crowded time at the orchard. Afton Apple Orchard is also the site of school field trips to give children the opportunity to learn about harvesting in a farm setting.
The Apples of Afton Apple Orchard
The apple trees at Afton Apple Orchard were last planted in 1972. Their bountiful harvests are what the orchard is known for and apple season is, by far, the busiest and most popular time for the Femlings’ business. The orchard still markets heavily to the u-pick customer base, but they also sell picked-for-you apples for those who opt out of the pick-your-own apple orchard experience.
An interesting feature about Afton Apple Orchard is that their trees have been selected and cultivated to be short trees. The small stature of the trees means there’s no need for ladders, providing the ideal environment for u-pick harvests. Even small children can pick their own apples right off the lower branches — an orchard like this is where the start of a lifelong love affair with apples begins at a young age.
The apple varieties Afton offers are Paula Red, Zestar, First Kiss, Estival, KinderKrisp, McIntosh, RiverBelle, Sweet 16, Cortland, Spartan, Haralson, Honey Gold, Regent, Honey Crisp, and Connell Red – Fireside.
Not Just An Apple Farm, However
While “apple” is in the name, Afton Apple Orchard has other widely popular crops available.
Summer is strawberry season and, like the apples, is available as u-pick. Starting in August, raspberries (red, pink, yellow, and black varieties) and blackberries are u-pick crops that draw large crowds on fall weekends. The website recommends visits for the best picking at the end of the week before the heavy weekend picking.
Of course it wouldn’t be fall without a pumpkin patch and Afton Apple Orchard opens theirs in late September. Gourds and squash, as well as ornamental corn, are on hand until the end of October when the pumpkin patch closes down for the year.
But it doesn’t stop there. At the fall Flower Festival, held on the weekends from mid-August to mid-September, visitors can come to the orchard for cut-your-own sunflowers and zinnias.
As if this weren’t impressive enough, there’s a 15-acre corn maze for the pièce de résistance of fall festivities. This is no ordinary corn maze because it’s divided into three phases of maze ability level.
Phase 1 is geared toward beginners, or those who are self-proclaimed “directionally challenged” (as the website jokes). Visitors have the option to exit after completing the first phase or proceed to the challenge of Phase 2, with the chance to level up to Phase 3.
But be aware — there are over six MILES of twist and turns making up the maze, so you could be there for a while if mazes aren’t your strong suit!
Along with the playground and petting zoo mentioned earlier, there’s more family fun with hayrides to really put guests in the mood for fall.
What You Can Buy At Afton Apple Orchard
Obviously, guests can purchase the farm’s produce. But there are other delicious offerings like cider, jam, maple syrup, honey, and other Minnesota products.
During apple season, the treats at Afton Apple Orchard are even more plentiful — apple donuts and fritters, caramel apples and caramel apple sundaes, plus “fair foods” like hotdogs, chips, sodas, coffee, and hot chocolate.
Taking a Chance That Paid Off
On a March afternoon over 31 years ago, Frank and Cindy Femling made a nearly hour-long drive to Denmark Township and took a chance on a three-line “For Sale” newspaper ad. It’s likely neither of them had any idea they were about to take the first step in establishing a family business legacy.
Today, some of Frank and Cindy’s children also work at the farm and some of their children have become involved in the orchard, as well. More than three decades after the Femlings purchased their 190 acres, Frank’s dream of a farm is a vibrant and thriving apple orchard business that’s a beloved Minnesota destination for visitors every year.
Where To Find Afton Apple Orchard
If you’ve never visited Afton Apple Orchard, hopefully you’ll make plans to do so in the near future!
Address: 14421 90th Street South, Hastings, MN 55033