GAYS MILLS — Seventy-seven years after her in-laws started the business, current owners Ruth Fleming and her son Jim continue to draw customers to Fleming Orchards with their large variety of apples, baked apple treats, specialty foods and a petting zoo, which has goats, pot-bellied pigs, chickens and rabbits.
The orchard, four miles east of Gays Mills, harvested about 13,000 bushels of apples last year. “We’ll probably have a little less than that this year,” Jim said. “We had some damage (to trees) from the severe winter.
But since the harsh winter, Jim said, “The weather’s been perfect. We’ve had plenty of moisture and a cool summer.”
The orchard’s retail store opened on Labor Day weekend with Zestar, Paula Red, Dudley and Northwest Greening apples for sale. It will remain open through the end of October.
The orchard’s most popular apple variety, Honeycrisp, became available in the store a week after it opened for the season. “Those grown here on the ridge have an especially good flavor,” Ruth said. “They’re sweet and tart, and nice and firm.”
Fleming Orchards has had Honeycrisp apples for about 10 years, Ruth said.
The third-generation orchard has about 65 acres of apple trees and was founded in 1937 by Ruth’s father-in-law, James Fleming. “It was the end of the Depression, and he thought having an orchard would increase the value of the land,” Ruth said of James, who was a farmer.
James Fleming’s son, Jim “Boots” Fleming, returned home in 1946 after serving in the Army during World War II and took over the family business. Boots and his wife, Ruth, operated it until he died in 1993. Since then, Ruth and her son Jim have owned the business.
On Saturdays, Jim also sells Fleming Orchards apples and apple cider at a farmers market in Madison.
Fleming Orchards sells many of its apples to wholesalers that supply supermarkets in several counties in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois. Several roadside markets also carry its apples.
The orchard has had a small pick-your-own area for the past five years or so, Ruth said. “It’s more of a family project,” she said of pick-your-own apples. “Lots of families will bring their kids to pick them.”
She and her son enjoy visiting with customers.
“I enjoy the people and watching the apples develop into the summer and fall,” said Ruth, who at age 83 remains very active in the business.
Fleming Orchards produces many varieties of apples for both cooking and eating. It also grows its own squash, pumpkins and broom corn.
The bakery in the orchard’s retail store makes apple pies, turnovers, dumplings, muffins and cookies.
The orchard’s store also has caramel apples, apple cider, honey, maple syrup, jams and jellies, relishes, salsas, popcorn, Indian corn, flavored pasta, vanilla beans, soups, wild rice, apple chips, pancake mixes and candy.
And it sells charcoal made from apple tree wood, and gift items, many of them with an apple theme.
On weekends, the orchard also serves Jim’s Southwest chili, made with a recipe he brought back from New Mexico.