CUMMING, Iowa (AP) — Paul Rasch picks several red apples from a tree at Wilson Orchard and Farm, about 5 miles northeast of downtown Iowa.
The warm, sweet apples belong to around 100 varieties and are at the heart of Rasch’s growing family business. Going beyond traditional “pick your own” apple orchards and pumpkin patches, the family adds strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries; zinnias, dahlias, and other flowers; weddings, music, and other special events; cider business; animal husbandry; and farm to Dining table and BBQ smokehouse.
Now, a mainstay of nearly 4-year-old Iowa City is taking root in Cumming, a town of about 500 southwest of Des Moines in the state’s first agricultural district (a 900-acre development Called Middlebrook, the $800 million mixed residential, retail and commercial project centers on agriculture, with orchards connected to a vast community garden.
Wilson’s Des Moines Metro Orchard covers 115 acres, of which approximately 30 acres are used for livestock ranching. “The rest will be in fruit trees, berries, pumpkins, flowers, vegetables, but also grasslands and places where nature expresses itself,” Lasch said in a video announcing the project on Thursday.
The goal, he said, is to connect people with food and “the land where it comes from.”
We’ve long dreamed of expanding into Des Moines,” Rasch told the Des Moines Chronicle, adding that he was unsuccessfully searching for a site near the capital with scenic rolling hills, ponds and woods. He found mostly flat cornfields.
“It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen,” he said, until Middlebrook’s developers added 160 acres to the project. “Everything is in place.”
Plans for the new orchard grew naturally as Rasch and his wife Sara Goering’s children, Katie and Jacob Goering, joined the company, bringing their own skills and ideas. In 2009, he and his wife bought the orchard.
“We want to be more diverse. We want to be open longer,” said Rasch, who spends the summer growing apple trees, strawberries and raspberries in his orchard on the west side of Middlebrook. “We used to be open for three months in the past year. Then it climbed to six months and now it’s a full year. What we did in that year has expanded.”
“It’s been a slippery slope,” Rashi said of his family’s growing business, which attracted about 265,000 people last year at orchards, markets and restaurants in Iowa City. “It has built its own momentum.”
As Rasch walks through Iowa City’s orchards, he talks about some of the additions that resonate with visitors. The 1/4-acre garden is full of color, and visitors can cut or buy flowers at the farmers market. They can also walk across a bridge and stroll among the rows of sunflowers they can pick.
“People just love them,” Lasch said, adding that the gardens are also a popular place to take pictures.
Bees and other pollinators also love these flowers.
“We’ve seen a lot of native pollinators come back,” said Rasch, who brings in commercial beehives every year to pollinate fruit trees.
Cutting back on summer mowing also helps pollinators, says Rasch, who walks the meadows overgrown with purple clover.
“We used to mow the grass a lot. But we came to the conclusion that there are benefits to being less eager,” he said.
Habitat supports insects that help protect his crops.
“Ninety-seven percent of insects are good people. When I was growing up, all insects were bad people,” said Lasch, a fifth-generation farmer who grew up in Michigan, where his family grows apples, Cherries, pears and other fruits. “We nuke them. We make a living by spraying.
“But we’ve learned that we don’t have to do that. If you get 97 percent of people to do their jobs — I wouldn’t say we do nothing — you hardly have to do that much,” he said, adding Added that new technology has helped the work.
For example, farms use pheromone disruption to prevent destructive apple moths from laying eggs in apples, before caterpillars eat their way out. Staff tie pheromone ribbons to trees, filling the orchard with fragrance and making it difficult for males to find females and mate.
“It’s more expensive, but doesn’t involve pesticides,” Lasch said.
Regenerative agriculture isn’t just about developing “one or two grandiose measures.” It takes countless little measures to get the job done,” he said, like mowing the grass in the fall so nesting eagles, hawks and other predators can see and help control bark-eating voles that destroy fruit trees.
Rasch also fed pomace—the pulp, peel, pits, stems, and seeds left over from apples after they’ve been squeezed into cider—to lambs, pigs and cattle raised by him and other farmers. Meat and orchard crops are served at the family’s Ciderhouse restaurant and Smokehouse, a grab-and-go grill.
After Katie Goering saw what the client wanted, the family built the restaurant and event space, and the family moved a restored barn to the property to accommodate the new business.
“We decided that if we were going to eat, we should be eating really good food,” said Rasch, who hired chef Matt Steigerwald, who won the James Beard Award for running the Lincoln Cafe in Mount Vernon. He features produce from orchards and regional farms in the restaurant’s menu.
With the development of Cumming Orchard underway, Katie Goering says the next step for the family is to build a 20,000-square-foot farm market and bakery, cider bar and restaurant, and a cider cellar this fall and production facilities. The store and orchard is the first to serve strawberries and will open next year. The family plans to build the event space in a year.
Rasch said Cummings will feature cider.
“Most people don’t know this, but Iowa was once one of the largest apple producers in the U.S., and before Prohibition, hard cider was the most popular alcoholic beverage in the country,” he said in announcing the project. said in the video. “One of our goals as a company is to rebuild cider and cider culture in Iowa.”
Steigerwald, the company’s culinary coordinator, will lead Cumming’s restaurant as well as the Iowa City restaurant. Additionally, the family owns a 90-acre commercial orchard in Solon, between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, where they produce the corporate cider and sell it in Metro Des Moines and eastern Iowa .
While Iowa City restaurants tend to lean toward fine dining, Katie Goring said Cumming’s farm-to-table food will be more casual, with take-out options available at the market. She said the new orchard will offer a refined dining experience through special events like Iowa City, which hosts a Full Moon Dinner, offering fixed meals paired with cider.
“The consistent theme for all food is quality – carefully sourced local ingredients,” says Jacob Goering.
In Iowa City and Cumming, it’s important that orchards are places that people can enjoy on a regular basis, Rasch said.
“We don’t want this to be an annual destination,” he said, adding that’s why the orchard often hosts band performances, tractor and hay rides, winter skating and other events.
“We have a lot of special events in Iowa City that will be in Des Moines as well,” Lasch said.
Steve Bruere, president of Diligent Development, the company that develops Middlebrook’s agriculture, said he thinks Wilson’s orchard will be integrated with an existing community garden, where 400 to 500 people gather each week in the summer. Friday.
Families with lawn chairs can purchase gardening products, wine, cocktails and dinner at one of the 20 on-site vendors while enjoying free music. The town is already a favorite for cyclists on the Great Western Trail, which runs from Des Moines through Cumming.
Developers are connecting farming to trails and building trails that run throughout the development, including Wilson’s Orchard. The development, which will eventually have 1,500 dwellings, will be built over the next decade, and already has Middlebrook Mercantile, a premium bar and general store.
Brewer said Wilson’s Orchard will make Cumming more of a destination for Metro residents.
“No one is complaining that California has too many wineries,” he said.
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