HANCOCK COUNTY — Indiana Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch stepped into the cooled room holding floor-to-ceiling crates of apples.
The fresh, crisp scent of the apples rivaled any air freshener and added a pleasant aspect to the tour of Tuttle Orchards, one of several tours Crouch attended through the month of October to promote agritourism businesses in the state.
She learned the orchard goes through 70 of those crates a week in the process of making apple cider, which it sells onsite in a farm store, a restaurant and grill. Director of marketing and administration at Tuttle Orchards, Ruth Ann Roney, directed a short tour of the some 70 acre-facility, which raises 30 varieties of apples every year in addition to pumpkins and other produce. The varieties include the Staymen Winesap, a type patented by founder Roy Tuttle in 1977.
Tuttle Orchards produces 5,000 gallons of cider, made from a proprietary blend of apples and spices, every week, Roney said. Apple skins and seeds leftover from the process are provided for hog feed or fertilizer for area farms, she said.
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Tuttle Orchards provides tours and hayrides for about 500 students a day from nearby Indianapolis schools as well as Hancock County schools, Roney said. A state FFA convention brought busloads of agriculture-minded high-schoolers to the campus, not only to learn about cider production but also to sip apple cider slushies and brave the corn maze, Roney said.
Though the orchard doesn’t charge admission to its site, Roney estimated some 5,000 to 10,000 people come out to pick apples or pumpkins on fall weekends.
The business, which has doubled its sales volume in the past eight years, didn’t set out to grow, Roney said.
It’s trendy to purchase locally grown produce, and population growth in the Fortville/McCordsville area has contributed to growing crowds at the nearby orchard, she said.
Businesses like Tuttle Orchards contribute to the character of Indiana’s rich history of agriculture, Crouch said.
“As a segment of agriculture, agritourism is big business,” Crouch said. “It brings people in, it highlights agriculture and adds $31 billion to the Indiana gross domestic product.”
As lieutenant governor, Crouch oversees a portfolio that includes the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, Office of Defense Development, Office of Community and Rural Affairs and the Office of Tourism Development, according to the state of Indiana website. In addition, she also serves as chairman of the Indiana Counter Terrorism and Security Council and president of the Indiana Senate.