In 1935, a farmer planted just a single apple tree in southern Michigan, then left it for five years. That one tree would determine the fate of his family during a time when the dust of the Great Depression was still settling. And the tree bore fruit.
“My grandfather Walter wanted to make sure it would do well on his land,” says Jim Swindeman. “By 1940, he was satisfied he could make it work, and he became a full-time apple farmer.”
More trees were planted, and the farm became Applewood Orchards, a small family operation near Deerfield, nestled
in the temperate fruit-belt region of Michigan. For years, Applewood sold fresh fruit locally, but when Walter retired in 1955, things changed. The family grew the operations out over 400 rolling acres with varieties like Honeycrisp, Gala, McIntosh, and Red Delicious dangling like jewels on the orchard trees. Also, America’s appetite for fresh, juicy apples continued to grow. The Honeycrisp, in particular, “broke the model for what consumers are willing to spend for a good eating experience, and it brought people into the market,” says Jim.
Today, Applewood is in the hands of Jim and his brothers, Steve and Scott. They run the orchard and are also part of All Fresh GPS, a marketing and packing company that has two additional Michigan locations. All Fresh uses new technologies, such as
a high-speed packing line, electronics, and software to sense any defects in fruit and to help bring a quality apple to Fresh Thyme bins and to the market more quickly.
But on most days, Jim relishes the simplicity of the rolling Michigan hills, the scent of apples sweetening the air, and the feel of the family roots beneath his feet.
“Sometimes when I’m at certain spots around the farm in early morning or late in the day, I might stand there and look out across the orchard. It is beautiful. I really love this place,” he says. “But I can’t do that for very long because right away I’m spotting a problem to take care of, seeing something that could be done better. You can’t stand still and remain a farmer.”
Just like that very first tree did years ago, the orchard and the enterprise continue to grow.
Location: Deerfield, Michigan, with All Fresh locations also in Sparta and Comstock Park.
Mission: Growing, gathering, and distributing “the best of the Michigan apple crop” (18 varieties from growers on 20,000 acres).