By Laura Leffel, Leffel Roots Apple Orchard
With 30 years of combined service in the United States Air Force, Jim and Laura Leffel decided to embark on a new adventure: apple farming. If it seems a little out of left field, you’re wrong. The Leffels maintain their love of country and their fellow airmen and soldiers, and they decided to pour out that love to veterans and those currently serving by using the fruits of their labor. In just four short years, and with determination, a willingness to learn, and a lot of luck, Leffel Roots Apple Orchard was born.
The first year, according to the Leffels, their contributions to veterans wasn’t much. As inexperienced farmers with no background in apples, or planting at all, their focus was more on trying not to contaminate anything! Luck was with them and they had a bumper crop the first year. They were able to donate over 1800 lbs of apples to Feed My People, the Wisconsin Veterans Home in Chippewa, and the Veterans Housing and Recovery Program. However, as they expanded their orchard offerings, they wanted to do more.
Simply donating apples wasn’t enough for the Leffels. They realized part of the joy that comes from apple season is going to an orchard and being able to pick your own. So the Leffels, in partnership with the Farmer Veteran Coalition, built a picking deck designed with disabled veterans in mind. A raised deck, it circles 16 apple trees to allow those in wheelchairs the opportunity to pick not only apples, but also pumpkins from the attached raised pumpkin patch. They’ve had many groups (veterans and non-veterans) and families use the deck, with some adults and children being able to pick their own apples for the first time. The large bell at the end of the deck, ringing out, is a cheerful recognition of a successful picking!
Of course, the Leffels are not the only ones focusing on veterans. Many groups throughout the state assist veterans through hardships, educate children on patriotism, and donate millions of dollars for children’s services. The American Legion, the largest of these organizations, turned 100 last year, and the Leffels designed their 10-acre corn maze with the American Legion logo in honor of their service to veterans. Inside the corn maze was a trivia quiz about veterans and the military that encouraged people to appreciate their sacrifices both in the community and on the battlefield.
This year, Leffel Roots Apple Orchard will continue the veterans celebration with an expanded 3D Annual Veterans Appreciation Weekend. All are welcome to attend this fun event!
Jim and Laura’s uniforms might have changed from flights suits and combat boots to jeans and flannel, but their love of country and those who have served has not. They continue to find new ways to highlight local veterans and will continue to expand their offerings in the next four years and beyond.
Check out the orchard’s website (http://leffelroots.com/) for more information, and don’t forget to put them on your picking list come this fall!