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Wisconsin orchard celebrates 160th anniversary

October 13, 2018

CHIPPEWAY FALLS, Wis. (AP) — A family’s long planted history of harvesting fall’s favorite fruit.

This year marks the 160th anniversary of the Connell Family Orchard in Chippewa Falls. The orchard offers 30 varieties of apples and apple flavored treats such as pies, cookies, dumplings, turnovers, doughnuts and more. Connell’s also offers wagon rides and Halloween themed attractions, but the origins of the orchard started out much differently.

Orchard co-manager Rick Connell said the orchard started in 1858 with the first generation of Connells to call the area home.

“We are seven generations of Connells here,” he told the Chippewa Herald . “James Connell was the first one. He’s the one who settled here. He logged the land, built a log cabin, planted some apple trees and our family has been raising apples here ever since.”

When the orchard saw its first apple grown, the intention wasn’t to become a full-time publicly available orchard, Rick Connell’s father and orchard co-manager Dick Connell said. It is something that developed over time and through consumer demand.

“Through the years it went from a food business to an entertainment business,” Dick Connell said. “My dad used to sell apples by the truckload to people and now they get a few apples to eat, they go on the hay ride and they have a piece of pie. They can take their family to the orchard and it’s cheaper than taking them to the movies. They can be entertained for hours going from one orchard to the next.”

After 160 years and many generations of Connells, the orchard has grown from a few apples trees in the mid-19th century to a full grown commercial operation. The third co-manager, Steve Connell, said the orchard sees its busiest time on the weekend, but no matter the amount of work at the end of the day, it is just picking apples.

One of the factors that keeps Connell’s Family Orchard going after so many years, Rick Connell said, is the deep family history and connection the orchard carries. Generation after generation the orchard has remained family-owned, and he said his love for apples, and his family’s way of life, began at a very early age and has now transferred over to his own children.

“I remember being a kid and being excited to ride the tractor,” Rick Connell said. “I loved running the cash register, I loved talking to people and I just loved apples. Kids love apples. My kids come to work with me and we go out picking apples. They help around here. We just try to keep them away from the bakery even though they love it.”

Even after so many years of operation, Rick Connell said the aspect of their orchard which makes them special is their commitment to quality products and great customer service. He said customers come back every year because the orchard gets to know their customers on a personal basis and cater their offerings and business to fit their customers’ needs.

The Connells remain excited for the future of the business, as they continue to refine their apple picking routine, growing strategies and day-to-day operations to keep being sustainable.

One event on the horizon they are looking forward to is the, “Connell’s Field of Screams” event. On Oct. 25, 26 and 27, the orchard is offering a haunted house style event in one of its fields, hoping to become a part of the Halloween scene.

While the Connell’s Family Orchard may have been run by seven generations of Connells over the past 160 years, Rick Connell said the family dynamic extends to their customers as well.

“A lot of our customers, when they come through the door, we know them by their first name,” he said. “Our customers are our family.”

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Information from: The Chippewa Herald, http://www.chippewa.com

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