Minnesota orchard marks 60 years, three generations
The 15-acre lot of apple trees in Rochester is now almost 10 times in size since it was purchased in 1962.
ROCHESTER, Minn. — Fred Kappauf recalls how his parents thought a modest 15-acre orchard would be a good place to raise children.
Kappauf not only grew up there, after college he returned to work the orchard, keep it growing and producing apples.
Now, 60 years since Joyce and Ken Kappauf purchased Sekapp Orchard, a third generation is poised to take over the Rochester business.
Kem Tong, Fred’s daughter, is finishing her studies at the University of Minnesota with online classes while also helping with harvest season at the orchard.
Tong said she wasn’t sure she would eventually take over orchard operations until she went to school. Her classes gave her ideas she wants to apply to the family business as she majors in applied economics with a minor in management.
“I thought, maybe I can make it a place where I don’t have to struggle,” she said.
Tong said she would like to eventually expand the farmer's market at the orchard with more offerings from nearby producers. She said she might look at ways to expand the seasonal hours to draw families to the orchard earlier in the year. Tong isn’t dreaming of any big changes.
“My plan for the orchard is to keep it a fun place for families to come to,” she said.
Tong’s interest in the business echoes her father’s involvement.
In 1991, Fred Kappauf graduated from college with a manufacturing engineering degree with an emphasis on management. He said he didn’t expect to apply what he learned to running the orchard. However, his father had a heart attack that year, and he came home to the orchard to help during harvest season. That same year, Kappauf had a chance to buy 80 acres of land adjacent to the family orchard. Five years later, he added more than 50 additional acres to the orchard.
It wasn’t just sheer volume of land that improved the orchard, he said.
His parents had their work cut out for them before they were able to reap their first harvest.
They purchased the land in 1962 from Ben Dunn, a horticulture teacher with Rochester Public Schools. Dunn had planted a diverse selection of trees on the original orchard but they weren't in the best of shape, Kappauf recalls.
“It took my mom a couple years to whip the trees into shape and get them producing,” Kappauf said. She ran the orchard until 2005.
Over the years, the family added more varieties of apple trees, a few pear and plum trees, pumpkins and other plants. The farm has 30 acres of apple trees with 20 in full production and 10 acres of trees still growing to maturity.
The orchard also has 75 honeybee hives producing local honey and helping to pollinate the crops.
This time of year, Kappauf brings on about three dozen workers to help for the season. In the spring, cool weather helped the apple trees hold off from producing blossoms too early and the apple harvest will be bountiful, he said.
However, autumn weather is just as necessary as the spring and summer weather for a successful year. Although the family sells apples at the farmer's market, the bulk of the business comes from visitors to the orchard. He said if it’s rainy and cool, customers will stay away.
Over the decades the orchard has had ups and downs, but Kappauf said he has no regrets taking over the family business.
“I’ve had the best office window view for the last 30 years,” he said.