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It’s all about the apples

By Staff | Sep 30, 2011

Greg and Bev Baedke wrap freshly baked apple turnovers at Community Orchard, 2237 160th St. The Baedkes arrive at 5 a.m. to pop the turnovers into the ovens.

While most of Fort Dodge is still sleeping, Bev and Greg Baedke are baking pies, dumplings, turnovers and muffins.

The owners of Community Orchard don’t seem to get much sleep in the fall.

Typically, they go to work at 5 a.m., “but we’ve been here as early as 2:30,” Bev Baedke said.

She may not love being at work quite that early, but Baedke said she has no problem with the wee hours.

“It’s quiet and you don’t have the phone ringing. I think we get as much done in three hours in the morning as we do the whole rest of the day put together,” she said.

Becky Gay, a member of the bakery crew, helps produce one of the hundreds of pies produced daily at Community Orchard. There is a half-gallon of apples in every pie.

Autumns at the orchard mean seven-day work weeks.

“We have no life in the fall,” she said.

The “bakery crew” comes in at 7:30 a.m., but the name is a bit of a misnomer.

“They make, not bake,” Baedke said. “They bake some things, but for the most part, we do the baking.”

On a typical day, that production would include around 300 pies, 1,200 dumplings and 55 to 60 trays of turnovers

Community Orchard added the bakery in 1975.

Meeting demand

Community Orchard will continue to sell fresh apples through Christmas, but the Baedkes are still at work after the orchard closes for the season. They spend time going to meetings, reading periodicals and networking with other growers to make sure they anticipate trends and have the right apple trees planted in their ground.

For example, one of their best sellers, Honeycrisp, takes about five years to produce a good-sized crop, Greg Baedke said.

Honeycrisp, developed in Minnesota, was released to buyers in 1990, and the Baedkes began planting it about 1995, he said.

“We started off with 100 trees, and we have 1,600 of them now,” he said.

But, their success has come with setbacks. One year, they lost 500 trees to fire blight, a disease similar to Dutch elm, and had to replant all the trees, Greg Baedke said.

While Honeycrisps have been a best seller – second only to Haralsons at the orchard, which ripen in late around the first of October – the next star may be on the horizon.

“We have a new one that’s going to come on strong,” Bev Baedke said, “as soon as we get more in production. ZESTAR! is a Minnesota apple, it’s sweet and tart, with a hint of brown sugar flavor. We only had a hundred half-peck bags this year.”

Keeping up on consumer trends also plays a big role in the orchard’s success.

“We used to sell most of our apples, all of our apples really, in our very famous half-bushel box, and customer trends have changed,” Bev Baedke said. “People let us do the baking for them. There’s not a lot of people who come in and buy 10 half-bushels of No. 2s and go home with their friends, peel apples all day and make sauce.

“Those days are kind of gone. You still see some people, but not very many will do that.”

Contact Barbara Wallace Hughes at (515) 573-2141 or bwh@messengernews.net

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