Apple Jack Orchards is located on the banks of the beautiful Crow River in Delano, Minnesota. For more than 30 years visitors have enjoyed the apple varieties grown on this 90-acre farm. It’s a favorite fall destination for families each apple season and we think you’ll see why — keep reading and we’ll tell you all about it!
About the Owners
Mike and Kit Dekarski and John T. (“Jack”) and Leah Kelly (Kit Dekarski’s parents) are the original founders of Apple Jack Orchards. It all started when Mike and his father-in-law, Jack, planted a modest 250 apple trees on the farmland that Jack, a family physician, owned.
In the beginning, it was just supposed to be a hobby farm. Mike kept his day job selling electronics and Kit raised their two children while managing the orchard on the side. No one had any idea that those 250 trees were the start of what would become the thriving business that Apple Jack Orchards is today.
In 2011 Mike and Mary Kahler bought Apple Jack Orchards after hearing that the Dekarskis were interested in selling it. Mary Kahler said she and her husband bought the orchard because they feared someone might buy the property for development and they hoped that won’t ever happen.
The Dekarskis remained full-time managers of the orchard under the ownership of the Kahlers. Recently, however, the Dekarskis have taken ownership of the orchard once more. Today Mike is the President of Apple Jack Orchards and Kit is the owner.
For Even More Fun, Check Out The 21 Best Apple Orchards In Minnesota!
The History of Apple Jack Orchards
The Apple Jack Orchards of today almost never existed. Mike Dekarski was on the fence about whether to start a Christmas tree farm or an apple orchard. After hearing some negative feedback about the business of Christmas tree farming, Mike decided on an apple orchard. He already knew that the soil on his father-in-law’s land was ideal for apples.
In 1983 the original 250 trees were planted on 50th Street and each year more trees were added. Within six years the number of trees had increased to 1,000 trees and planting continued.
Once the apple trees had time to become established and finally began producing crops, the work to sell the harvests began. The first year, apples were sold at garage sales. By the following year the Dekarskis started to figure out better sales strategies. At one point, apples were sold roadside from a railroad cart — today the railroad cart can be found outside the orchard’s apple barn, serving as a piece of family history.
Listening and Responding
In the beginning small attractions for children were created at the orchard because visitors asked “What do you have for my kids to do?” The Dekarskis recognized a need their customers had and took steps to meet it. It’s anyone’s guess how many people could trace their love of apples back to a visit to Apple Jack Orchards when they were a young child!
Mike and Kit also attended Networking Association for Farm Direct Marketing and Agritourism conferences and applied what they learned from them. Attention to feedback from their visitors and implementation of best growing practices have contributed to the success of Apple Jack Orchards.
Growth of an Orchard
The mid-90s is when the orchard began to experience significant growth and in 1998 the Apple Market became part of the orchard. Making food part of the orchard experience was another successful marketing decision. In 2003 the Apple Pantry Cafe was added, along with a building across the street for strawberries and social events (it doesn’t appear that the orchard grows strawberries anymore).
By now the concept of “agritainment” had take root at Apple Jack Orchards — getting people to visit the farm for the apples, but also providing entertainment while they were there. Events like scarecrow contests and pumpkin-weighing contests were part of the attractions offered during a fall visit to the orchard.
According to Kit in a 2007 interview, the family accidentally became farmers — “…an apple farm sounded like a romantic notion, and it’s turned out to be a lot of work.”
What the Orchard Has Grown Into
Today Apple Jack Orchards boasts over 10,000 trees on 90 acres, growing 29 Minnesota apple varieties. A 100-year-old barn on the property serves as the site for indoor activities and the location of the Olde Barn Gift Shop. Guests can take in beautiful views of the nearby river from the Crow River Terrace where they can enjoy the orchard’s tasty selections from the cafe or the bakery
While Apple Jack Orchards is not an organic farm, it does use sustainable farming practices. Pests, weeds, and diseases are closely monitored. Chemical sprays are only applied when any of these reaches an unacceptable threshold level. By taking this approach, the lowest possible doses of chemicals are used only when necessary — if the orchard has a particularly good year with a low incidence of pests or disease or weeds, then less chemicals are used that year.
The Apples of Apple Jack Orchards
The Dekarskis kept up with what apples the University of Minnesota was breeding and releasing — each year they added new varieties to their orchard. All of the apples grown at Apple Jack Orchards are Minnesota apples.
The Varieties You’ll Find
- First Kiss
- Paula Red
- Red Baron
- Sweet 16
Crabapples Grown at Apple Jack Orchards
Two varieties of crabapple are also available.
- Chestnut Crab
- Dolgo Crab
Interesting Facts About the Apples
In 2013, 80% of the orchard at Apple Jack Orchards was Honeycrisp apple trees — it was considered the game-changer apple for the business. The other favorite is the Zestar.
As apple season approaches, the Apple Jack Orchard website provides a webpage listing the harvest dates of each variety as they ripen and become available for picking.
What You Can Buy Besides Apples
While apples are the main focus of the business, Apple Jack Orchard has other things on offer for visitors to check out.
You can visit the u-pick pumpkin patch to get your holiday pumpkins (the patch is open in late September through Halloween). There are also u-pick fall raspberries and squash are also mentioned.
There are a number of festival-like attractions in the fall to fit all budgets at Apple Jack Orchards.
- Olde Barn Gift Shop (located in the 100-year-old barn)
- Apple Pantry Cafe
- Apple Market
- Animal Feeding Area (where you’ll find goats, chickens, and turkeys)
- Play Area for children
- Haybale pyramid with slide
Paid Fee Attractions
- U-Pick Fields (all produce)
- Tractor Wagon Rides through the orchard
- Fun Farm Activities (cow train, apple cannon & slingshot, pony rides, corn box play — each activity has its own fee)
- Jumping Pillow (added in 2011)
- Zip Line (added in 2020)
Events change from year to year (in 2021 the Farmhouse Market was canceled after being held for four years). You can visit Events on their Facebook page to see the current status of upcoming events being held at Apple Jack Orchards.
What You Can Buy At Apple Jack Orchards
Obviously, the main reason to visit a Minnesota apple orchard in the fall is those glorious apples! You can buy your own u-pick apples or buy pre-picked bags of apples if actual picking isn’t your thing. U-pick pumpkins and raspberries and squash are the other produce purchases you can take home to enjoy.
Products Apple Jack Orchards is Known For
The Olde Barn Gift Shop has an impressive inventory of jams & jellies, BBQ sauces, soup mixes, baked goods, home decor items, vintage items. But there is one item that people tend to rave about from Apple Jack Orchards.
The Apple Cinnamon Donuts!
You’ll want to be certain a bag (or two) of these go home with you…provided they don’t get eaten during the car ride home from the orchard.
You’ll Be Glad Apples Won Over Christmas Trees
Thirty-four years after planting those first apple trees with Mike, Jack Kelly passed away in 2017 at the age of 90. While Mike and Kit were the driving force behind Apple Jack Orchards becoming what it is today, it never could have happened without Jack’s love of nature and agriculture (and, of course, his land with its wonderful soil).
The orchard Jack helped create is still going strong today with his daughter and son-in-law back at the helm of the business once more. Providing an enjoyable orchard experience for apple lovers of all ages was the goal from the early days and, judging by the orchard’s popularity, it’s a goal Apple Jack Orchards achieved.
Where to Find Apple Jack Orchards
We hope this article has inspired you to visit Apple Jack Orchards this apple season.
The u-pick orchard opens to the public in mid-August and closes in early November. August hours are 10 am to 6 pm, Monday – Saturday; September/October hours are 10 am to 5 pm, 7 days a week.
After apple season ends, the Gift Shop and Bakery continue to sell pies, crumbles, and other baked goods until just before Thanksgiving.
To help you plan your trip, we’ve provided the following contact information.
Address: 4875 37th Street SE, Delano MN 55328