Local farm markets ready for fall season

Published 2:47 pm Friday, September 24, 2021

NILES — Fall has officially arrived in southwest Michigan, much to the delight of local farms.

Farms across southwest Michigan, including Sprague’s Family Fun Farm in Dowagiac, Dussel’s Farm Market in Cassopolis and more have begun offering fall produce items including apples, pumpkins, squash and more.

According to Sarajane “Jane” Lecklider, second-generation owner and operator of Lehman’s Orchard, 2280 Portage Road, Niles, business is booming. The orchard is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

“We’ve had people that say they didn’t even go to the grocery store last year,” she said. “They came here, but they didn’t go to the grocery store. A lot of people have been coming through because we’re outside, and they’re afraid of COVID. We don’t use herbicide, and customers believe the fruit is much better for them to eat and our fruit is better. It makes a big difference.”

Apples, raspberries and blackberries are being picked now, and pears have been popular.

“They like the honey crisp apples,” she said. “Our raspberries did very well. We didn’t have any plums, and peach season is over. Customers loved the peaches. We were lucky to have them; we hadn’t had any for three years so to have them was a treat. Anything that looked like a peach, they picked it.

“Blueberry season is over but blueberries are popular here.”

According to Lecklider, there has been an increase in customers purchasing fruit to make gifts for others.

“They are picking fruit for other people,” she said. “They are making jams for Christmas presents.”

Lehman’s Orchard first started operating in 1929. The 55-acre farm now produces a variety of fruits from strawberries and raspberries to apples and pears, which are used to create more than 150 products.

Lehman’s Orchard opened a winery at the orchard location in 2008 and Lehman’s Orchard Farm Store, 204 N. Red Bud Trail, opened in 2017.

“My father and grandfather bought this land in 1928,” Lecklider said. “In the ‘40s, they had some peaches, but the peaches didn’t come every year so he got into tart cherries in the ‘40s and ‘50s and that’s what we did. When we took over in 2000, we added all the other stuff.”

According to Lecklider, U-pick options for fruit have been a popular change in the farm industry in recent years.

“We’ve always had U-pick for the cherries, so people always came here,” she said. “Now we’ve got the different fruits, so that has evolved. People just come to pick and they’re happy with that.”

For Lecklider, her favorite aspect of the fall picking season is the customers who come from far and wide seeking out their produce.

“We have a lot of nice customers,” Lecklider said. “That’s my favorite thing. They come from Chicago, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis. The people who moved away come back and visit the orchard when they come. I like the people that come. I like to be outside and I like the fruit too but if you’re going to do a business, we have nice people come and it makes a difference.”