Picks of the Season
Orchards have become destinations that combine outdoor fun and fresh-picked produce.
There’s nothing quite like biting into a fresh, juicy apple. The succulent sweetness wrapped tight by thin, crisp skin is nature’s dessert, and you don’t have to feel guilty about it. The same is true of tart blackberries, luscious peaches or juicy table grapes.
Yes, you can buy your fruits and berries in the grocery produce aisle, but you can also venture out on Southern Indiana’s back roads to find them in their natural habitat. And, while you’re there, you can take a hayride, shop for jams and jellies, listen to live music or sample a glass of locally produced wine.
These agricultural amusement parks are part of a growing agritourism trend. Ruth Ann Roney, president of the Indiana Farm Market Association, says the growth is connected to the rising interest in buying local. “It’s something that’s trending right now,” she says. “People are interested in buying fresh, buying local and seeing where their food comes from.”
David King, program manager of local foods for the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, agrees, adding that Hoosiers want to see the dollars they spend on produce stay in Southern Indiana. “U-picks and orchards offer consumers, both local and visitors, an opportunity to enjoy food products in their freshest condition, when they’re richest in nutrition.”
812 visited three different regional orchards, each of which offers customers more than just produce. We tell you what’s ripe when, share the owners’ favorite recipes and even tell you how you can become an “orchardista.” Join us to discover the best of Southern Indiana’s fruits and berries – and fun for the whole family.
Huber's Orchard, Winery and Vineyard
19816 Huber Road, Starlight
You’ll find: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, black raspberries, peaches, blackberries, apples and grapes.
Arrows point in the direction of Huber’s Starlight compound like signs on a Candyland board. Follow the twists and turns, and you’ll be led to a family agricultural empire, hilly and overflowing with fruit, vegetables, wine and more. Here, in summer and fall, the air is ripe with smells of berries, peaches and fresh apples and the sounds of children playing in the Family Farm Park. Down the road from the park is a cheese shop, an ice cream factory, a restaurant, a winery and a distillery – all under the name of Huber.
What makes this orchard most special, though, are its family ties. In 1843, Simon Huber emigrated from Baden-Baden, Germany, and settled on 80 acres in Starlight. Today, the orchard is run by the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh generations of Hubers, and Simon’s modest farm has expanded to more than 600 acres.
Marcella Hawk, 27, a seventh-generation Huber, works as the orchard’s administrative assistant with her mother. “We do anything and everything that needs to be done,” she says. “Not only do I get to come in and work with my family, but I also get to do something different every day.” A member of the Huber family is never far away on the farm. You’ll see them driving a Gator across the fields or overseeing the festivities. This particular afternoon, a group of old friends are enjoying pizza and wine on the winery patio. Nearby, the younger Hubers hustle to set up rows of white chairs facing the vineyard for an upcoming wedding.
Hawk says the busiest season is the fall, when people flock to the U-pick pumpkin fields and apple orchards, but Huber’s stays open year ‘round.
People come for the strawberries, peaches and brambleberries, Marcella says. And the special events. “We’ve got tons of things for a family to do,” she says. “They can come visit the Family Farm Park, but then they can also go eat lunch, the parents can have a glass of wine or sangria, and then they can ride the wagon out and pick apples, strawberries or peaches.”
Huber’s also makes more than 40 different kinds of wines, using grapes that they grow themselves on the orchard. Reds and whites, dry and sweet, all are ready to be enjoyed with friends on the restaurant patio. In the summer, they have live music every Saturday and Sunday. The acts are scheduled a month in advance, and you can find them on their website calendar.
Marcella says she’s seen more and more families taking advantage of Huber’s offerings in the past couple of years. “There’s been a huge growth in the whole agritourism business, not just ours – it’s become such a big source of entertainment,” she says.
Bloomington Community Orchard
2120 S. Highland Ave., Bloomington
You’ll find: blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, elderberries, ground cherries, bayberries and gojiberries.
Tucked deep in residential neighborhoods south of Bloomington is a tiny orchard that’s really more of an outdoor classroom. Originally an undergraduate project for the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, the Bloomington Community Orchard now offers an array of organic berries and fruits for the community.
As you walk up to the one-acre orchard in Winslow Woods Park, you are greeted by a gate made of twigs that look like it belongs in a fairy-tale. The air is quiet, except for the hum of the occasional car driving by or the clink of a baseball bat from the Little League diamonds nearby. Inside the gate, fruit trees and berries are planted in a circular design, with strawberries in the center and a beehive off to the side to encourage pollination. Paths encourage visitors to stroll through the orchard.
Amy Roche, age 47, has been working with the orchard since it began five years ago. “I fell in love with the people and the community,” says Amy, now the orchard’s outreach and board chair. She knew people in Bloomington were “ripe and ready” for a community orchard.
Today, the nonprofit orchard is run by 50 core volunteers who devote thousands of hours to caring for the plants, all chosen to thrive in Southern Indiana’s climate. Visitors can pick their own fruit after learning how to avoid injuring the bushes and trees. “We recommend that people come to a work-and-learn day so they can recognize when the fruit is ripe,” Amy says.
The orchard gives visitors a basket of options. You’ll find standards like strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and cherries, but also some lesser-known varieties like elderberries and gojiberries. The latter, traditionally cultivated in China, are considered a superfood that boosts brain activity and the immune system.
The amount of fruit available varies with the season. Last year, the orchard produced dozens of quarts of strawberries and blackberries and quite a few jujube, a date-like fruit, Amy says. The year before, peaches and plums did well.
Unlike other Southern Indiana orchards, this is also a place for people to learn about growing their own fruits and berries. Classes are offered year-round for those who want to become true “orchardistas.” The classes are hands-on and focus on topics such as pruning, tree pollination and sustainability. And they’re free. “We don’t want any barrier between people and the fruit,” Amy says.
Visitors are welcome year-round as well. In early spring, the orchard is in full bloom, with buzzing honeybees and colorful butterflies. In June, strawberries ripen. With July come blackberries, blueberries, plums and peaches. At the Harvest Fest in July, visitors can enjoy a shortcake bar where you can top your treat with your choice of fresh berries and honey.
In fall, the orchard will celebrate its fifth anniversary with a Cider Fest on October 10. Guests can make their own glass of warm, fresh cider with handcrank and electric cider presses. Kids can get their faces painted and carve pumpkins.
And visitors are always encouraged to explore the orchard and immerse themselves in the natural beauty. “It’s a beautiful place to paint, sit and eat,” Amy says.
Mayse Farm Market
6400 North Saint Joseph Ave., Evansville
You’ll find: strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, tomatoes
For owner Paul Mayse, farming runs in the family. “I grew up in it,” he says. “It’s kind of my lifestyle.”
From the time he was young, farming was in Paul’s blood. He left his Evansville home to attend Western Kentucky University, then used his marketing degree to come back in 1974 and start the market division of his family orchard. Now, Evansville locals know that a trip to Mayse promises mouthwatering produce, from the early-summer strawberries through fall squash and pumpkins.
Mayse Farm began more than 75 years ago and has grown to 90 acres overflowing with fresh produce.
During the growing season, Paul checks each individual crop to ensure customers are getting fresh, delicious produce. “We pick our produce early in the morning to get everything picked by noon,” he says.
Every year, as the May 1 opening date for the orchard and farmer’s market nears, Mayse says that excitement begins to build. “People wait all winter to get our produce,” he says. “When they get excited about it, we get excited about it.” Strawberries ripen first. “We allow people to pick strawberries because we have so many – we can’t pick them all,” Mayse says.
Throughout the spring and summer season, Mayse Farm Market also buys and sells other local produce to customers.
“You go to the grocery stores and everything is shipped in,” Mayse says. “You come to our place, and you have things that are grown right here.”
Fresh produce isn’t the only thing you’ll find at Mayse’s. In fall, the farm offers kid-friendly activities like wagon rides and corn mazes and even a “kiddie zip line” called Granny’s Clothesline. “There’s no crying on the farm,” Paul says. “The only time you cry is when you leave.”
Last year was one of the most successful seasons Mayse Farm Market has seen. “Everybody wants to know where their produce comes from,” Paul says. “They want to know if it’s locally grown.”
And he expects to see another good season this year. “When we’re open, there’s not much of a slow time.”
Click to find recipes, a guide to apples, locations for orchards in southern Indiana, and more.