HANCOCK COUNTY – A full apple crop is expected this fall, following two years of weather conditions that yielded slim pickings.
That’s good news for local businesses that rely on agritourism to thrive each fall. Still, foot traffic has been strong in the last two years despite adverse weather conditions and a global pandemic because of what local owners say is clean, outdoor family fun that attracts visitors locally and statewide.
“We have a really good apple crop this year that we’re really excited about it,” said Ruth Ann Roney of Tuttle Orchards in rural Hancock County. “We didn’t have a freeze in the spring; the last two years we had a really late, hard freeze.”
The orchard is open year-round, but apple picking began last weekend and will continue through October. Roney, manager of the orchard, said even though the crop was small the last two years, they still saw plenty of people coming out to enjoy the fall activities.
The orchard not only draws visitors from Hancock, Hamilton and Marion counties, but also from across the entire state to enjoy the food and fall experience.
Several of the features that were scaled back or taken away due to the pandemic and crowd control are back for 2022. The giant slides at the Tractor Town playground are back this year, as well as weekend hay rides. There are also a few new play features like trikes and the Tuttles Tumbler, which allows children to try their hand – or feet– at a hamster-wheel-type structure.
Also back by popular demand is the build-your-own caramel apple station for three Saturdays in September. The pumpkin patch opens Sept. 23.
Several other local businesses will continue to offer fall family activities, including Piney Acres near Fortville and Lark Ranch in Greenfield.
Piney Acres features a trivia game corn maze, kid’s corn maze, hay rides, play structures and more with sales of items including pumpkins, squash, sunflowers and corn stalks.
Special dates include showings of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and “Hocus Pocus” with the Sanderson Sisters Sept. 30, and Fall Fest Oct. 29.
At Lark Ranch, the pumpkin crop is strong this year, said manager Adam Lark.
The business is open weekends from Sept. 24 to Oct. 30 and offers a corn maze, pumpkin picking, amusement rides, a train ride and more.
A new train is on display at the ranch, and people should notice some improved amusement rides like a large carousel and a scrambler, Lark said.
New food vendors are likely on the way for 2022, he added. They spent the year improving infrastructure at the site, such as paving walkways to make the facility more accessible to everyone, and hope to open even more family activities in 2023.
At an apple orchard just south of New Palestine, Adria Kemper echoes that the crop is plentiful this year.
Pleasant View Orchard in Fairland has U-pick apples available now through the end of October, or until all the apples are picked out. The pumpkin patch opens Sept. 24 and tractor rides are available to the pumpkin patch on weekends.
Kemper co-owns the orchard with her husband, Jeff. Every Saturday of the season includes at least one special event, from live music to wine tasting to live animal shows. The farm is also one of five farms on the Shelby County Bicentennial Farm Fest Tour Sept. 10.
The Kempers noticed an increase in the amount of people checking out the orchard from 2020 to now.
“I believe (it was) due to the fact that it is a safe outdoor activity and more people were working from home and some school systems were not in school everyday with e-learning at home,” Kemper said in an email. “Coming to the orchard is a fun, family friendly activity.”