Sweet apple cider, a warm sugar-and-cinnamon-coated donut and a big bite of a juicy red apple picked right off the tree. There is no better way to celebrate a crisp fall day than making a family trip to the apple orchard. And Spicer Orchards in Hartland is a popular destination for Greater Flint families. According to Will Cartwright, Manager of the juice, wine and cider-making, family is what it’s all about at the business started in 1968 by Alan and Wanda Spicer.
The family-owned, 350-acre farm started out small, growing only apples, peaches and cherries. “Apples were the main crop,” Cartwright reports. He grew up with the Spicer family and his father worked on the farm for many years, driving a tractor in the fields. The Spicers steadily added more crops, including strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, plums and pumpkins. “Mr. Spicer’s belief was that depending on just a few crops made the business vulnerable,” says Cartwright. “More crops made us sustainable and more attractive to our customers.”
As the business continued to grow, the Spicers realized what a family event the farm was becoming for visitors, so they added some farm animals and play areas and of course, cider and donuts. The Spicers supervise the entire operation – their son Matt oversees the harvest, and daughter Shannon is the market manager. At the peak of the season, there are at least 100 employees who keep things running smoothly. Many longtime staff say they feel blessed to work there. “It is very important to us that our employees are happy,” Cartwright shares.
“The pick-your-own concept is a big part of the business,” he says. “From May until October, we are harvesting something and offering a pick-your-own event.” In October, the main crop is apples of every variety: Honeycrisp, Gala, MacIntosh and Northern Spy (a popular baking apple), to name a few. “Honeycrisp is the most popular variety,” says the cider-maker. “It’s just a wonderful apple – crisp and juicy, with an amazing flavor.” Tractor-pulled wagons take families on rides out to the orchard throughout the day. “I love to see people come out on a nice afternoon, pick their own apples and see what we have to offer. It’s a family destination.”
In 2008, Spicer Orchards added Spicer Winery & Lunch Café, offering a variety of dry, semi-dry and semi-sweet wines, as well as a delightful variety of hard ciders. Sweet, fruit and specialty wines are also for sale. While the Orchard is only open from May until January, the winery is open year-round. “We like having the winery open during the winter months,” Cartwright shares. “Private events can be held in the wine-tasting room.” The café menu includes panini sandwiches, as well as a variety of appetizers and kids’ meals.
Cartwright says the young and old alike enjoy Spicer’s Corn Maze. “Matt Spicer runs the Corn Maze and he works hard to make it fun and entertaining,” he comments. This year, the Corn Maze is shaped like the Statue of Liberty. There are 15 American history questions that lead to 15 American icons in the maze. “If you find all 15 icons, you get apple cider and a donut,” Cartwright says. “Families like to search together, but I think some people are more interested in the cider and donuts.” The Corn Maze is open throughout September and October, closing when it’s time to harvest the corn.
“I love to see people come out on a nice afternoon, pick their own apples and see what we have to offer. It’s a family destination.”
In the Farm Market, you will find sweet and delicious cider and donuts and much more: ice cream, fudge, fresh-baked pies and breads, vegetables and high-quality, Michigan-made and local products. Three big donut machines can produce 700 dozen per hour, filling the air with an irresistible aroma.
The action revs up at Spicer’s on the weekends, when local artists play live Country/Americana music and visitors can enjoy food from vendors roasting corn and serving yummy BBQ from a pig roaster. Sweet treats include kettle corn, elephant ears and more. Kids can burn off their energy in a bounce-house, take a train ride or scenic hay ride, sit on a farm tractor or just hang out with the farm animals and feed the goats.
While the workdays are long at Spicer Orchards, Cartwright wouldn’t have it any other way, and he loves the cider-making. “That’s my passion,” he says with a big smile. “It’s a craft that starts with a good quality blend of fruit. I use a mix of tart and sweet apples to create a good balance. This is my favorite time of year, because there are so many apple varieties. I have a fantastic cider crew.” At times, the job can be very demanding, he adds. “You have to stay focused – things on the farm can change rapidly. Mother Nature can change everything in a heartbeat.” But to Cartwright, it is more than just a job. “It’s a way of life.”
Photos provided by Spicer Orchards