One, Two, Three Orchards: Local Apples Galore!

For most people, keeping one orchard going strong would be challenge enough. But Ron Knutson (aka Ronnie Appleseed) has his hands full currently caring for not one, not two, but three orchards. Halverson’s Orchard was the first. “Around 2009/2010, my wife’s (Shelly) Aunt Kay knew the Halversons, and Dennis Halverson was needing help with pruning, so we met and reached an agreement: we would prune the trees in exchange for some apples,” Ronnie explains. “In 2016 Dennis, who had cancer, passed away, and the family graciously turned over the management to us.  Also, in 2015, we heard at the Wisconsin Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Growers Conference that Class Apple was looking for somebody to manage it. A small 1.5-acre pick-your-own orchard was just what we wanted. We made inquiries about the orchard and contacted Lorretta. She had lost her husband, Dale, the year prior, also to cancer, and with the family living out of town, she needed someone to take care of it. So we took that on as well.”

Their third (original) orchard is AVEnue Orchard. Ronnie notes, “We purchased what was formerly known as The Apple Tree Inn Bed and Breakfast in October of 2007 but didn’t move in until January 31, 2008, after General Billy Mitchell Air Reserve Base, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, closed, and I retired. Instead of a bed-and-breakfast, we are an adult family home. I was going to retire and just do a little woodworking, primarily making flag cases, but the great outdoors called me, the trees were crying for help, and a new adventure was born. WE HAVE AN ORCHARD! So we added 1,500 more trees and two more small orchards.”

AVEnue Orchard sells jarred and canned goods, as well as prepicked apples. “I think we have as many varieties of jams, jellies, fruit butters, sauces, and pie filling as we do apple varieties, which is at twenty-six and counting,” Ronnie laughs. “And we are always dreaming up new recipes. This year’s leader in our jarred and canned goods is our Strawberry Rhubarb, followed closely by Chai Apple Butter, and who would have guessed but gaining fast is our new Apple Watermelon.  Strawberry Jam, Strawberry Hobenaro, and Apple Pie Jelly are neck-and-neck and close behind.”

What kinds of apples does AVEnue Orchard offer? This year there will be twenty-six varieties available:

Chestnut Crab
Connell Red
Cortland
Daybreak Fuji
Duchess
Empire
Grimes Golden
Haralred
Haralson
Honey Crisp
Honey Gold
Jonamac
Liberty
McIntosh
Northwest Greening
Paula Red
Prairie Spy
Red Delicious
Regent
Snow Sweet
State Fair
Sweet 16
Whitney Crab
Wolf River
Yellow Transparent
Zestar

Our pears are:
Bartlett
D’Anjou

Available for pick-your-own at Class Apple, are Honey Crisp, Cortland, McIntosh, Connell Red, Empire, and Honey Golds. “At Class Apple, we have cider, our very own blend from our very own apples. Class Apple is a quiet place to come and enjoy the greatness of God’s country,” Ronnie says. “Bring your picnic baskets along, you ain’t gonna wanna leaf,” he jokes.

AVEnue Orchard generally opens around mid-August. Class Apple opens September 9 and is open Saturdays and Sundays 12:00 to 5:00 pm, and will close October 8. Halverson’s is not open to the public.

Ronnie seeks to promote access to and use of local food products. “I love it. As much as possible, all our products are from local sources. It is a well-deserved and an awesome show of support to the local farmers, who work hard at bringing you a quality product. Besides, it always tastes better when it ripens on the vine.”

“Oh,” he hastens to add. “I forgot honey! We have honey. Yes, we have the bees here. Fascinating creatures they are.”

Mike’s Star Market: Local Meats Equal Good Eats

In business since 1990/1991, Mike’s Star Market in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, offers beef, lean pork sausage and brats, as well as handmade condiments and custom spice mixes. All their beef is hormone free, and they also offer some grass-fed beef. They have hormone-free chicken and local lamb too.
The “Mike” in Mike’s Star Market is Mike Maier.

“I actually got into the meat business because I needed a job in the late fall of 1987. My grandfather was working for a guy that was looking for help with venison processing, cutting, and wrapping. I gave it a try. My grandmother first taught me how to wrap steak and ground venison. Then after a bit, my grandfather taught me how to cut. Being a farm kid, I already knew a little about it, just not how to do cuts. I for some reason picked it up quickly. Then after that first season I was kept on part-time to cut and learn how to make some sausage items. I came back in the fall to take over my grandfather’s spot as he moved to Arizona. I cut and learned more cutting and then sausage making from Jan, who owned the shop.”

Of the various meat markets in the area, Maier feels his stands out, primarily due to the great employees. He notes, “It is not just a Mike thing, it takes others to help.” Another thing that makes the market stand out is a desire to always learn more and to strive to make already good products better. Maier notes that their products undergo only minimal processing. He adds, “We also, like other small businesses, care about our customers. Being in business this long, many customers can be called friends.”

Mike’s Star Market provides meat to some local businesses, and they also have a retail counter and freezers. Maier says, “You can stop in and buy what you like or order in large amounts. Not much we can’t do or offer. If we can’t do it, we know other meat shops in the area that can, and we will point you in that direction.”

What is important to Maier and his staff is to provide good meat to customers. “I want you to be satisfied with first quality and flavor,” he says. “Because we make sausage here, we can control the quality. We try to hold ourselves to a higher standard and offer a good price for what the consumer buys or wants—which is always changing.”

Mike’s Star Market also offers venison processing, from cutting the whole deer to making a very wide variety of sausage items. They offer custom smoking of most anything, excluding fish. They can do custom cut animals for farmers who bring them in or have them butchered on the farm or another facility. As Mike says, “Not much we can’t or won’t do, meat related.”

Ta-Da! Dinner is DONE! Meals from Together Farms

by Stephanie Schneider, Together Farms

Imagine it. You walk in the house to the tantalizing aroma of a meal that is nourishing and ready to eat. Instead of hearing “What’s for supper?” or “Can I have a snack?” you hear “Mmmmm…what is that yummy smell?!” and “I’ll set the table!” as everyone shifts into supper mode instead of starving-while-waiting-for-supper mode. Having a dinner that is cooked and ready to be dished up as soon as you get home completely shifts the entire dynamic of how evenings usually play out, taking it from one of stress, chaos, and frustration to one of calm, contentment, and happiness!

Time and organization are also required to feed the family well. After years of frustration and trying different methods, I finally came across the system that worked for me: freezer to slow cooker meals!

The beautiful thing about freezer to slow cooker meals is that you are not cooking them before you freeze them, so they don’t taste like leftovers. You are just labeling a bag, prepping, and freezing. Then, when you need a break from figuring out what everyone should eat, you just pull it out and put it to work.

Here are some of the benefits:

There are no limits. The options are extremely versatile in flavors and meat types and cuts. They can be complete all-in-one meals or just meat and sauce.

Your brain gets a break. I struggle most with making the decision of what to eat. As you know, the classic response of “I don’t know” and “I don’t care” are less than helpful.

No struggle with allergens. All the meals we offer are free from most allergens, including gluten and dairy with soy-free an option too!

Lose weight. I’m not making any promises here, but I lost a lot of weight when I started really relying on these meals. If nothing else, you’ll feel so much better eating home-cooked, no-weird-stuff meals than fast-food crap full of unpronounceable ingredients using meat filled with hormones and antibiotics.

Get out of a cooking rut. Do you keep recycling the same recipes over and over again and need to try something different? Together Farms’ meals are changed frequently, and we currently have eleven different options available in the store.

Enjoy guilt-free ingredients. We use our own high-quality meats, certified organic vegetables, spices, and sauces.

Labels that help. Each meal you receive will have a waterproof label on it explaining how to cook it, showing all the ingredients, and suggesting ways to serve it as well as side dish ideas.

Customized for you. Hate green peppers? Ingredients can be left out at your request.

They make the perfect gift. Struggling to find something a new mom can actually use? Or, maybe you want to prepare before the baby comes? You can stock up now on finished meals to take the stress and worry out of cooking once the new baby arrives.

Pro tip: Moms usually get bombarded with way too much food, help, and attention in the first week or two after baby arrives. The freezer meals are happy to wait in the freezer until she runs out of (or throws out) all the chicken soup.

Host a Party
Get our ebooks and either have a big meal prep day or make it part of your baby shower. Or, leave all the work to us and call/text or email Stephanie today to set up your own private party.

Meals Currently in Stock
Beef Tips with Mushroom Gravy, Chicken Curry, Chicken Fajitas, Jalapeno-Lime Shredded Pork, Korean Beef Lettuce Wraps, Lemon Chicken, Pork Carnitas, Pork Ramen, Sausage & Peppers, Southwestern Pork Chili, Steak Fajitas, Teriyaki Pork Chops.

Order for you (or someone you love) TODAY!
Visit togetherfarms.grazecart.com/store/freezer-meals.

What About Donating Half Your CSA Share to Help Fight Hunger Locally?

Who Is Rachel Keniston?
Rachel Keniston has been concerned about food insecurity in Eau Claire, working at the Community Table since 2008, becoming its director in 2010, and recently retiring from it. “Food is one of our most basic needs, regardless of our financial situation,” she says.

While she worked at Community Table, Keniston and her family were building a sustainable agriculture farm, Solheim Market Gardens, using permaculture principles, with the mission to grow clean, fresh local produce in ways that respect and build the soil with minimal mechanical cultivation, hoes and hands for weed control, crop rotation and row covers to minimize pest issues. To Keniston and her family, the farm too is part of community building. “We all need healthy food regardless of our income levels. Our community (country and world) also need more small local food producers. It is important that our food not be traveling from all ends of the world, that it not be sprayed with chemicals. The way we grow food is important.”

One of the goals with Solheim Market Gardens was to eventually have a community supported agriculture program. In studying CSA good practices, Keniston was given the advice to not put too much food in the weekly share box. “People feel guilty if they can’t use it all,” she says. “None of us likes to throw good food away. The up side of partnering with a farmer through CSA is that people do eat more vegetables! But too much waste is the number one reason people give for dropping a CSA share.” Keniston read about a farm in Monroe, Wisconsin, that is a nonprofit that grows produce specifically for Feeding America, which distributes produce to food banks. She explains, “Instead of providing shareholders with produce, they grow to give to the food bank. Shareholders can also make donations to help purchase seed, equipment, and labor.”

What Is Her New Idea to Fight Local Food Insecurity?
While pondering both her concern for those experiencing food insecurity and her CSA goals, a light went off in her head. “I started to wonder if it would be possible to offer shareholders the option of subscribing to half a share but then donating the other half to Feed My People Food Bank, which would welcome more produce to share with those in need.” She describes how this would work: “First, could the farmer grow a crop specifically to be donated to a food bank for the food insecure? Yes, of course, but most farmers producing at this level are barely making ends meet themselves. That donation from a farmer would be a little like the poor feeding the poor. My thought was if people are willing to partner with the farmer to help create an economically stable farm operation where members are assured the highest quality produce, then maybe they’d be willing to help the farmer and the food bank by subscribing to a full share but donating half to the food bank.” If thirty half boxes of produce were donated weekly, that would be a big help to Feed My People and to the people coming to the food bank. The farmer could plan ahead of time to grow a large bed of certain vegetables for just that purpose. She explains, “At the end of the season, shareholders who donated could be notified of the total weight of produce they donated and the monetary market value of that produce. This could be used for tax documentation.”

Keniston has high hopes for the project, saying, “If it works this growing season, we would like to expand the effort and encourage other local farmers to join in.”

For more information and to sign up to donate a half share, visit www.solheimwi.com or www.facebook.com/solheim.wi.