Orchards Make Fall Fun

By Mike Bennett
Tasting the fresh apples at Dougherty Orchards

Tasting the fresh apples at Dougherty Orchards

As summer heads to fall, the region’s top two orchards answer the call.

  • For apples and other tasty treats.
  • For pies and cider slushes.
  • For berries and baby animals.
  • For leisurely — and free — family outings.

And every year hungry customers wind their ways on country roads to reach the longtime businesses.
Reid Health CEO Craig Kinyon fondly remembers taking his three daughters to 132-year-old Dougherty Orchards, in the country between Cambridge City and Richmond. “It was a fun time we always looked forward to each fall,” he said.
He became familiar with the orchard — the oldest family-run orchard in Indiana — when he worked in Connersville, then continued visiting after moving to Lafayette and then to Richmond.

Wesler Orchards

Wesler Orchards

Lena Gabbard of Eaton, Ohio, has been a longtime visitor to Wesler Orchards of rural New Paris, Ohio. “I’ve been coming here for 25 years,” she said during a visit in late August. “I love the fresh apples and fruits. I love coming out here.”
The same goes for the thousands who visit the region’s two biggest orchards. They are busiest on weekends, but are open daily during the season.
Diana Washam of Connersville visits Dougherty often throughout the late summer and early fall. “We go three or four times a season. We usually start going in August,” she says.
The we includes her granddaughter Izabella Throope, who loves to run through the trees filled with apples. “We take the little ones to see the little animals, get the cider and the donuts. We make a day of it,” Washam said.
Washam stops at other orchards or farms: “We go to McDivitt’s (just north of Connersville) to get pumpkins. We try to keep it local as much as we can.”
The special spots have been keeping it local for decades.
Wesler’s owner Ron Wesler recognizes hundreds of customers who return each year to the orchard that has been in his family since 1930. “I’ve had several that I’ve known my whole life,” he says. “We get a lot who have moved away and come out and say: ‘We’re back.’ They had great memories from being here.”
The orchard grows and sells two dozen kinds of apples. “We’ve been picking them since July 5 and up to Oct. 20,” Wesler said.
Starting on Labor Day weekend, customers are welcome to pick their own apples. Three of the most popular are the Galas, Honeycrisps and Granny Smiths.
The Wesler retail store offers a range of other homegrown and homemade products, including vegetables, salad dressings and steak sauces.

Carrying pumpkins at Dougherty Orchards

Carrying pumpkins at Dougherty Orchards

The products include pies and caramel apples made by Ron’s mother, Wanda, who is 82. His father, Meredith, continues to work 30 hours per week at the orchard as he approaches his 85th birthday in October. They all live in homes a short distance from the store. “They keep me on my toes,” jokes Ron.
The orchard requires long hours “seven days a week from July 4 until Halloween,” he says.
The orchard offers a petting farm, featuring goats, llamas and miniature donkeys.
Dougherty appeals strongly to young families with a petting farm that includes baby ducks, goats and pot belly pigs. There also are horses, donkeys and an aviary.
The orchard maintains a very active Facebook page that describes what is going on at the orchard that is open until early November. It offers photos and often tells of sale specials.
Its store offers a variety of apples, of course, but also mums, pumpkins, cider donuts, apple dumplings and homemade jellies and preserves.
“The orchard is one of the places that make this area really unique and really special,” said Kinyon of Reid Health.