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Maple Hills Orchard has apples, and a whole lot more

The orchard store will be open this weekend, the trails will be beautiful, the trolley will be running, and apples are still available — along with dessert treats served up in the store, homemade wildflower honey, and homemade maple syrup.

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Maple Hills Orchard co-owner Gary Goreham sits on the trolley with his house in the background.
Nathan Bowe/Tribune
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DETROIT LAKES — With fresh honey, homemade maple syrup, six varieties of grapes, a big raspberry patch and of course — newly-picked apples — Maple Hills Orchard just outside of Detroit Lakes can be a little slice of autumn paradise.

Speaking of slices, the orchard store also sells slices of apple pie and ice cream, caramel apple parfait, whole apple pies, and a variety of ciders, chai, coffee, tea and hot chocolate.

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Low hanging fruit at Maple Hills Orchard.
Nathan Bowe/Tribune

Add in the walking trails — there are quarter-mile, third-mile and one-mile loops — the nature trail, the labyrinth and the trolley rides, and it’s easy to see why the orchard is a popular place when the leaves begin to turn.

That’s because Maple Hills Orchard is the fruit of 25 years of labor by owners Gary and Jonna Goreham.

“In 1998, when we bought the place, a played-out alfalfa patch was all that was here,” Goreham said. Now that 30 acres of land includes buildings, apple trees, a self-pick raspberry patch, three types of eating grapes and three types of wine grapes, all ripe for the picking. There has been some frost already, so the self-pick areas are done for the season.

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Maple Hills Orchard offers apples, as well as honey, maple syrup, paintings, woodworking, pottery and more.
Nathan Bowe/Tribune

The orchard and self-picking areas are enclosed inside a 10-foot wire fence — which turned out to be the only way to keep the deer from eating the newly-planted apple trees down to the roots, he said.

There is also a walk-through “three sisters” arbor hanging with beans, squash and gourds.

There's a large pollinator-friendly garden, which serves dozens of varieties of pollinators, big and small, and further out in the property, away from the public area, are five bee hives that provide the golden wildflower honey that is bottled and sold by Maple Hills Orchard.

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Haralson apples ready and waiting at Maple Hills Orchard.
Nathan Bowe/Tribune

The orchard is located at 29355 130th St., Frazee (which is actually just south of Detroit Lakes’s Sucker Creek Preserve) and it grows a variety of apples — including Cortland, Fireside, Haralson, Honeycrisp, Keepsake, Northern Sweet, McIntosh, Paula Red, Regent, SweeTango, Sweet 16, and Zestar. But they ripen and are sold off at different points in the season, and not all are still available.

“We just picked our last Haralson on Sunday,” Goreham said. They are boxed up and ready in the store’s walk-in cooler.

All in all, he added, “it was a reasonable (apple) crop. It was dry again this year, so it was a longer season, but the Haralsons are particularly red.”

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A garden at Maple Hills Orchard.
Nathan Bowe/Tribune

Apples are picked by the Gorehams and brought to the processing room inside the store, where they ride down a short conveyor belt — to be washed, dried and lightly buffed — then roll into a round central sorting area.

There, any slightly blemished apples are separated from the perfect ones and sold as “seconds,” while the rest are boxed and sold as regular apples. The blemished apples are fine and taste the same, but might have little scars or bumps, and Goreham likes to separate them so customers don’t think they were hidden on purpose in the bottom of the bag.

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Maple Hills Orchard is open four weekends this season, from Sept. 17 to Oct. 8, so there is still time to get over there this weekend.

“We’ve been open as many as eight weekends,” Goreham said, depending on a variety of factors. “Next year we'll probably be open more.” Maple Hills Orchard doesn’t have its regular pumpkin patch this year, either, but he expects that will return next year as well.

But the store will be open this weekend, the trails will be beautiful, the trolley will be running, and apples are still available — along with dessert treats served up in the store, homemade wildflower honey made by the Gorehams, and maple syrup made by Ed and Mandy Musielewicz. “They do an amazing job with their syrup,” Goreham said.

Also for sale at the store are beautiful watercolor paintings and ornate wooden bowls by Deb and Kurt Anderson, who live near the orchard, and works of pottery from Lost Highway Pottery in rural Vergas.

“We really want to support our local people, so we highlight the local artists,” he said.

Gary worked for 33 years as a professor of environmental sociology at NDSU in Fargo, retiring in 2019. He also worked on sustainable agriculture and community development. Jonna was trained in speech therapy and raised their daughters, Jessie and Julie, so it’s not a surprise the orchard owners love working with the groups of students, from preschool through high school, that comes through on educational tours.

They teach kids about honeybees and other pollinators, and how to grow apples and pumpkins, among other things, Goreham said.

“The idea is to make connections — with kids and their parents and grandparents — with each other and with the land,” he said. “We are emphasizing much more stewardship of God’s creation, especially in the light of climate change.”

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And when things get busy at Maple Hills Orchard, family comes to the rescue. Daughter Jessie and her husband Curt brought their three girls to help last weekend, and daughter Julie and her husband Jonathan brought their two boys. Both families live in the Twin Cities.

“They come up and help on busy weekends,” Goreham said. “Now there are three generations working here.”

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“The last order was either a Double Papa Burger or a double bacon,” recalled employee Wendy Olson. “I’ve been working here for four or five years. At first, it (the last day) was sad, but then people kept coming in; the line grew and grew. By the end it was bittersweet.”