Apple-picking season is here! Head out to these sustainable, organic apple orchards

Apple-picking season is here! Head out to these great organic and sustainable apple orchards

It is officially apple-picking season. Nothing says fall more than heading out to the orchard to pick your own apples, sip on some warm cider, and snag some apple butter or cider donuts for the road.

(It’s a long drive back to the cities, after all. You’ll need a car snack.)

We’re lucky here in Minnesota to have a vast array of orchards that always guarantee a wonderful and memorable time with apple-picking, hayrides, corn mazes, music, eats, and more.

If this year you’re also looking for sustainably grown, organic, or minimal chemical and pesticide use, however, your choice of orchards does narrow a bit. Here, I searched for the apple orchards who not only use sustainable practices but where you can also explore the orchards, pick your own apples, and enjoy fun activities for the whole family.

Hoch Orchard and Gardens

Everything grown at Hoch Orchard’s is 100% USDA certified organic. And if you’re looking to avoid the masses and huge crowds, Hoch Orchard is the place: The orchard is family run and avoids the typical large agrotourism setup inviting you to tour the farm on your own, pick your own produce, and simply enjoy the beauty of their orchard.

You’ll be able to choose from dozens of apple varieties including the Statefair, Honeycrisp, McIntosh, Paula Red, Cortland, Keepsake, Snowsweet, and more. And while you may come here for apple-picking, Hoch Orchard’s has so much more to offer in their small retail store selling meats, honey, hard ciders, applesauces, and other produce grown on their farm.

The orchard is only open on Saturdays from 11am to 4pm with the first opening day of the season on this Saturday, September 8. The orchard will close out their season on Saturday, October 27. Be sure to check their Facebook page for the most recent updates and fun events.

Apple-picking season is here! Head out to these great organic and sustainable apple orchards

Sweetland Orchard

While Sweetland Orchard is not organic certified, they do use sustainable methods minimizing the use of chemicals and pesticides on their produce. They do not use herbicides or fungicides and only intervene and treat their crops when absolutely necessary as the owners Mike and Gretchen Perbix live at the orchard with their kids and pets and feel strongly about using as few synthetic chemicals as possible.

The two grow dozens of apple varieties that include your household favorites – SweeTango, Zestar!, Honeycrisp – along with unusual and intriguing apples flavors like Firecracker, Apricot Apple, Prairie Spy, Duchess of Oldenberg, and Wolf River. The Perbix family also takes pride in their hard cider operation made in their cider mill at the orchard, creating gems like the dry, tart Scrumpy Original and the subtle, bubbly Perennial cider.

Sweetland is not a pick-your-own apple orchard, however, they encourage you to wander and explore the grounds, bring your dog, and pack a picnic to settle in and enjoy the beautiful scenery. And if you’d rather not pack a picnic they do offer some food – farm bread, Shepherd’s Way Friesago cheese, cider donuts, and apple turnovers.

Opening day is Saturday, September 8 and they will be open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 6pm. Keep updated for changes and events on their Facebook page.

Apple Jack Orchards

You will not be disappointed coming to Apple Jack Orchards. This orchard is the one-stop-shop of jam-packed fall activities and entertainment. You can get lost in their 7 acre corn maze, jump in their corn pit, meet the adorable farm animals, take a pony ride, try out their Apple Cannons, take a ride on their zipline, snack on their delicious donuts and sweets in their bakery, or sit down for lunch at their cafe. Oh, and you can also pick apples.

They grow dozens of varieties from Paula Red to Zestar! and encourage you to check their website to see if your favorite apples are in season. Currently Zestar!, SweeTango, and Chestnut Crab are the only apples you’ll be able to pick on your own, but you can still buy other varieties in their store.

Apple Jack Orchards uses sustainable growing practices. And while they are not certified organic, they reduce chemical use with the approach called IPM (Integrated Pest Management). With this system they apply the lowest dose of chemicals only at critical times to combat unacceptable levels of insects, weeds, and diseases. According to their website, “The USDA tests our fruit annually and has never found residual pesticides.”

The orchard is now open daily from 10am to 5pm running through early November. Admission is free and be sure to check their Facebook page for up-to-date changes and information.

Read next: The University of Minnesota’s newest apple, First Kiss, to debut this fall