Looking back, looking ahead…

I was thinking the other day about how long our family has been on this farm. And how long this farm has supported our family. Two things that I guess go hand in hand. The Moelker family has been selling farm products here for over 111 years. That always amazes me!

When my Grandpa, John Moelker first came to the Grand Rapids area from the Netherlands, he started with a small dairy farm near Breton road. He had a milk route, peddling dairy products through the streets of that area. A few years later, when he moved out to where the Moelker farm is today, he continued selling milk, but added fruits and vegetables to the mix. John even grew grapes and made communion wine for some of the local churches. All of this provided the income to raise 10 children here!

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A load of fresh peaches!

When my father, Jim Moelker took over and continued the farming operation, he too sold his produce here on the farm. He also went to the Fulton Street Market in Grand Rapids. I can remember when I was a kid, he would leave early in the morning on market days, and not return until suppertime. Some days were good, and he would sell out and be home early. Other days he would come home with much of his produce left. Occasionally I would get to go with him to the market. It was an adventure for me to go to the big city! It was work for him.

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Jim, far right, at the market

In the early 1970’s, Dad decided to focus on selling to the public right here on the farm. He quit going to the market in town and built a refrigerated apple storage room with a place to sell from in the front of the building. No more travelling back and forth on market days. Now he could sell every day to  customers who came to the farm. My mother, Donna became a big part of the on farm market as well. Customers came out to get fresh cherries, peaches, pears and apples right from the farm. Mom was a great source of information on how to use that fruit, telling people how to freeze, can, make pies, applesauce and desserts. We also supplied several area grocery stores with fresh fruit to pass on to their customers.

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The new apple storage building! 1970

My wife Bonnie and I, along with our children have worked for years now to continue the Moelker family business. It is such a rewarding experience getting to know so many of you, and helping you enjoy the fruits of our labor. Pun intended! Some of you have just discovered Moelker Orchards, but others of you were  coming here before I was born! We know that without all of you, our friends and customers, Moelker Orchards would not be what it is today. You are a blessing to us!

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So this week Saturday, we want to show our appreciation to all of you. It is our annual Customer Appreciation Day. Come in and visit with us. Enjoy a cold cup of cider and a fresh warm donut “on the house.” Several products will be on sale, including our handmade pies. But most of all, just come in to say “Hi.” We will all be here to thank you for your support for us over the years. God willing, we will continue these friendships for years to come!

Have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker     tompic

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Picky, Picky!

Apple harvest is in full swing! Our days are filled with keeping our workers supplied with apples to pick, and apple bins to put them in. Then our evenings are spent putting the bins into cold storage, or getting them ready to truck away to wholesale customers. It’s a busy time of year!

Every apple harvested on our farm is picked by hand. There are no machines as of yet to take over that task. It’s hard work. A good apple picker can harvest 150 bushels of fruit in a day! And at 42 pounds per bushel, well, you do the math. As we go through the fall, we work our way through the many varieties that we grow. Each ripens at it’s own time, beginning with Lodi in late July, and ending with Granny Smith around November 1st. In between over twenty other varieties are harvested when ready. Some are picked just one time, harvesting all of the fruit at once. Others, like Honeycrisp, are picked over several times, taking just the ripest, most highly colored fruit each time.

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Another Honeycrisp novelty is the fact that when picking, we clip short the stem on every apple. It is a time consuming task, but worth the extra time and money. Honeycrisp have a very tender skin, and often, a long pokey stem that will damage the apple next to it when placed in a bin. Damaged apples lose a lot of value in the marketplace, so we do whatever we can to prevent that. Our workers carry a small stem clipper strapped to their index finger. Once picked, the stem is quickly snipped off and the apple placed into the picking bag that each worker carries. Over the course of a day the process is repeated thousands of times! The bag is slung over the shoulders and holds about 30 pounds of fruit when full. These people are professionals!

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Our apples go to many different places in the fall. Many are sold right from our market to customers who visit us. Some are used in our bakery for pies, breads, and dumplings. Much of the crop goes to packing facilities that package and sell the fruit for us to grocery chains. Some of the apples go to Nestle (Gerber) to be processed into baby food. Others go for fresh slices or cubes sold to the fast food industry for salads or packaged fresh apple slices. Still others are sliced and frozen for pie companies. Each apple has a purpose and a place to go!

So this is “crunch time” (pun intended). We begin the day before sunrise, and often end after sunset. We pray for good weather, fret when rain stops our harvest, and then remember that all of this is in the hands of One who knows exactly what we really need. And that is the best place there is for our harvest to be!

Have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker     tompic

S’no joke!

So is it just me, or have we become winter wimps over the last years? Here it is, December 6 and the weather people are issuing a “Winter Weather Advisory” for the possibility of “a trace to 2 inches of snow overnight”. Seriously. I think that when it’s 60 degrees on December 4, like it was on Monday, a “Summer Weather Advisory” would be more appropriate.

Now I don’t want to sound like Great Grandpa and his “walking to school in 4 feet of snow” stories, but really? It’s December. It’s supposed to snow now. It seems that over half the vehicles on the road now have all-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive. So we have to be better at handling this kind of weather than we used to in our 4,200 pound rear-wheel drive Buick, right?

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We spent the last couple days at the Great Lakes Expo, the trade show attended by farmers and agriculture industry people from all over the U.S. While the focus is on tree fruit, vegetable, and greenhouse growers, lots of general farming information and experts are there too. It’s a great opportunity to learn at the seminars, talk with other growers, and just enjoy the company of a great community of growers from around the country.

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Travis and I catch up growing trends and techniques, and the girls learn and share about farm market and bakery operation. There are always new ideas, trends, and even some stories about what not to do to be learned. I’ve said it before: I’ve never seen an industry where “company secrets” are shared so openly in an effort to make us all better at what we do. It is a real “we are all in this together attitude” shared by everyone from university professors, research scientists, equipment manufacturers, sales people and farmers alike.

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It’s one of the reasons I enjoy farming so much. The people. Whether they are growers I see weekly throughout the year, or some that I only see at the Expo once a year, they are a great group of genuine, down to earth friends. And I”ll bet they know how to drive in snow too.

Have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker

Bakers gonna bake….

Our blog this week is written by my daughter, Tressa Moelker. Hope you enjoy it!  Tom.

I am always really excited when fruit season comes around because that means I get to start baking again! Baking started as my hobby and a way for me to relax. Now I get to do it every day as my job and I love it. Making the donuts and other goodies is fun, but I also love to see the smile on customer’s faces when they taste something I have made. It makes all of the long hours I spend in the bakery worthwhile.

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This spring I graduated from college and I immediately started to experiment with new baked goods. Pies and breads were my focus. And my family had to taste it all. What a hard job :).

Finally, when I had narrowed it down to a few recipes, I invited a bunch of family and friends over to do a taste testing. It was a really fun time and it was a good way to get honest feedback about the pies. Now I have selected the best recipes and I am ready to start making them for you to try! This Saturday we are going to be having a bakery open house. We will be serving samples of the pie. They will also be available to buy frozen, so all you have to do is take them home and pop them into the oven. The added bonus is that you get to fill your home with the aroma of fresh baked pie!

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During all of this experimenting we also took time to expand our bakery. We needed more space to make the pies as well as our new Dutch Apple Bread. We are glad to be finished with the construction and are loving the new space. Make sure you come in this Saturday to check it all out and to get your taste of the pie!

As always, have a fruitful week!
Tressa Moelker

Christmas reflections

It is just a few days before Christmas. I don’t know why, but this week always marks the passage of a year for me. Even more so than the Old Year’s/New Year’s celebration. The busy Christmas shopping at our market and bakery, the making of fruit baskets, gift baskets, and boxes for shipping, all ends at Christmas Eve. After all the anticipation of the holidays and the frenzy of shopping and shipping deadlines, the last customer has been helped and it seems too quiet, too calm. What lies ahead now is a long winter of tree pruning, a very solitary task.

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I enjoy the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We settle into a holiday season where our usual selling of apples is punctuated by unique requests for special gifts for friends and family, both near and far away. It is fun to interact and imagine someone opening a box of Honeycrisp apples in Texas, or a salsa sampler in Colorado. Or a business associate receiving a gift basket of goodies from the bakery and market. I guess that bringing joy to people is what gives me a lot of satisfaction throughout the season.

When I was young, Christmas was a time of such excitement and anticipation! As a kid I probably didn’t think so much about giving gifts as I did getting them. And it was so fun to get to Christmas day! What would be under the tree? We rarely knew what was coming, and that made it all the more fun! Lincoln Logs, Matchbox cars, or a new Flexible Flyer sled, how much better could it get? Even the new blue jeans, dark, dark blue and so stiff that they would almost stand up by themselves (and abrasive to wear for the first couple weeks!) Winter boots, hats, or mittens were a staple too. And all were thoroughly tested out before the day’s end.

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Now that I am older, I think the giving part is more fun. Maybe that’s why I like to work in the market in December. Whenever someone leaves holding a gift basket or box, I feel a little like I’m giving it too. What fun! Whoever said it more blessed to give than receive was right. And I’ll bet they were older too.

I hope this Christmas is a joyful one for all of you. I hope that whatever your circumstances, you get to treasure time together with family and friends, giving and receiving and sharing with one another. And I hope that together we all celebrate and receive the greatest gift of all, Jesus Christ. Because besides being the reason we celebrate this time of year, He is the best example of giving and receiving that we could ever have.

Merry Christmas! And have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker

Back to school?

Winter looks like it’s finally setting in. It has been a beautiful fall season that lasted longer than usual. But now it is December and what’s a farmer to do? Well an older gentleman who happens to be a  fruit grower like me once told me: “Winter is time for learning”. I’ll never forget that. This man has probably forgotten more about fruit farming than I will ever know, and still he takes advantage of learning opportunities well into his 80’s. That should set an example for all of us.

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A car wash? No, an over-the-row blueberry picker!

This week we have been attending the Great Lakes Expo down at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids. It is a 3 day trade show dedicated to fruit, vegetable, and greenhouse farmers and is attended by over 4,000 people from the growing community. Besides a huge equipment show with over 450 exhibitors, there are more than 70 workshops and education sessions on a wide variety of topics. Everything from the latest technology to new marketing opportunities are on display here. Not only are there tractors and specialized equipment, big and small, from clever designers who are often farmers themselves, but also high-tech computer apps and hardware to make everything more accurate. Bumblebees(packaged of course) and brush choppers, apple slicers and website builders, irrigation systems and frost fans, if it has to do with farming, it is represented at the Expo. It really is amazing!

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That’s one big tractor! Note the regular sized tractor parked underneath it!
Our whole family attends the show, and we all are able to take some new knowledge away from the experience. Often it serves to renew our excitement looking toward next season with new ideas to try out and tweaks to things we are already doing. It makes us better at what we do! And I think sometimes we learn as much from our conversations with other growers as we do from the formal education sessions. I am always impressed at how farmers, generally a pretty independent bunch, are also a tightly knit community willing to share their knowledge of the trade with their peers. And at an event like this it is evident as groups of people from around the country and the world discuss and share ideas to make better growers of all of us. Pretty heartwarming! I’ve been attending this event since the late 1970’s, when it was held in the basement of the old Civic Auditorium, and each year I meet new people and old friends.

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Back to school! a seminar on the latest orchard planting systems.
So my 80 something year old friend is right. For us winter is time for learning. And planning. Because I’ve also heard it said:”If you stop learning, you better stop farming”. That probably is true of many things in life.

Have a fruitful week!

Tom Moelker

Guest Blog: Tressa Moelker

The seasons are changing rapidly now. The temperature is dropping and the sun isn’t staying up as long anymore. The days are getting shorter and things may be slowing down on the farm, but in the bakery we are still going strong. We’re making fresh donuts every day and bringing our fudge to craft sales on the weekends. Craft sales are a fun way to get off the farm for a while to sell our products and meet new people. Our employees enjoy those days too!

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Courtney showing off our display at the Jenison Christian craft sale

We also did a fudge fundraiser this year with a local high school. It was extremely successful and we are rushing to get 300 pounds of fudge orders filled. The nice part with fudge is that we can make it a few days ahead of time, unlike donuts. With donuts, we make them all the same day that we sell them to you. This is what causes the 3 o’clock mornings on Saturdays in October. We don’t mind though because the happy customer’s smiles are plenty of a reward for the early mornings. You may be wondering how many donuts we make on those busy Saturdays. Our biggest day was about 3,800 donuts! All with a little machine that puts out a maximum of 28 dozen an hour. Thankfully, I have a lot of dedicated and caring employees (and family members) that are willing to put in the hours with me to make sure everything gets done. Whether it’s coming into the bakery early to mix donut batter for me, or coming back out after hours to make apple dumplings!

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We enjoy those busy days, but it certainly is nice to be able to “sleep in” until 5:30 now on Saturday mornings. The slightly slower days provide rest and the ability to get caught up on things in the bakery that I wasn’t able to get done during the craziness in October. Which in turn helps me prepare for the busy holiday season ahead!

Have a sweet week!
Tressa Moelker