The chance to visit apple orchards is ripe for the picking.
Sunrise Orchards just outside of Gays Mills opened its doors for the 2020 season August 24 with some of the earliest of the family-owned orchard’s 21 apple varieties including Zestar, Dudley, and Paula Reds.
“They are all great pie apples,” Bakery Manager Sandy Jeffers said. “A lot of people might make sauce out of them, and some are super eating apples.”
She said the orchards have an excellent crop this year. In light of COVID-19, the core of the 2020 season will follow Sunrise Orchards’ new slogan, “we, not me.”
“We want to keep our customers and all of our wonderful employees safe,” Jeffers said. “We’re doing everything we can.”
Customers are asked to wear masks (except children under five) and respect social distancing. Sanitizer is available throughout the store, and Sunrise installed plastic shields to create additional separation among customers and staff. As part of the state-mandated, precautions, there will not be samples available, but Jeffers said customers do not have to make their decisions blindly.
“Most of our employees are experienced,” Jeffers said. “Utilize the employees’ knowledge. Don’t think you just have to come in and choose out of 21 varieties of apples.”
New this year, they’ve added a curbside picked for a limited number of items including apples, doughnuts, cider, salsa, and more.
On the busiest weekends, the number two apples that have imperfections and are typically used for baking will be in a tent just outside the orchard.
“We are trying to spread out all of our customers so there isn’t so much congestion and exposure,” Jeffers explained.
One of their busiest times would be during the Gays Mills Apple Festival during the final weekend of September. Unfortunately, the festival is postponed until 2021, but Jeffers did not anticipate a large drop in visitors.
“It’s possible we may have some, but people like good apples, and you can’t find better apples in the state of Wisconsin than along the ridge located above Gays Mills,” Jeffers said. “There are five orchards that belong to the Orchard Ridge Association, and we all do our best to get apples.”
For many, visiting the orchards is a family tradition that spans across generations.
“It’s kind of neat,” Jeffers said. “We’ll have someone come in and say, ‘these are my children, and I came here with my grandfather.’”
She recommended visiting the Gays Mills Orchard Ridge website for information about Sunrise and fellow orchards in the area. People around the state can also find apple growers near them through the Wisconsin Apple Growers Association.