July 17, 2012
Not long from now, workers will begin to harvest the apple crop. And in years past some of those apples made their way to Leidel’s Apple Stand along Highway 16.
Last year, however, the people who ran that stand retired. Bernie and Rosanne Buehler had run it since 1988, but wanted to travel and spend more time with family. So the apple stand’s future was uncertain.
All of that has changed. And you might recognize the name of the man who’s going to run the stand and open it later this month.
July 28, 2012
LA CRESCENT, MN – One of the area’s most well-known apple stands is now open for the season, after some questions about its future.
Leidel’s Apple Stand in La Crescent opened at 10 a.m. Saturday morning.
Even though the Leidel’s have been in the apple business since 1917, the stand had been operated by another family for about the last thirty years.
When they decided to retire last fall, the future of the stand fell into the hands of the youngest Leidel, 21-year-old Mitch.
Mitch decided to graduate a year early from the University of Minnesota and take over the stand.
He said it hasn’t been easy but he’s happy with his decision.
“I think we just want to carry on the tradition of apples in La Crescent. There’s a storied history with La Crosse and the apple industry; particularily my family. There’s almost 100 years that we’re been involved with the history of apples and we weren’t ready to throw in the towel yet. We just really wanted to keep that going,” said Mitch Leidel.
The Leidel’s own an orchard in La Crescent that has not been operational for a number of years.
The family is considering reopening that as well.
July 28, 2012
Leidel’s Apples, which some claim to be the oldest apple orchard in La Crescent, was either going to likely disappear or he would have to operate it.
“There’s a lot of history there, a lot of heritage,” he said. “I heard stories about my grandpa and his passion for the orchard and his pride for the stand. I couldn’t let it all fade away.”
So Mitch finished up college at the University of Minnesota a year early and headed home to the Apple Capital of Minnesota to operate the stand. It opens for the season today.
The family business has been around since 1917, when Mitch’s great-grandfather planted 1,000 apple trees. The operation grew, passed down from one Leidel son to the next until it came to Kevin Leidel, the current owner and Mitch’s father. For more than two decades, Bernie and Rosanne Buehler ran the operation, but the couple retired from the orchard in 2009 and from the stand last year.
Mitch knew the decision would come down to him. His only brother, Erich Leidel, had already graduated college and established himself in the Twin Cities.
“It would have been disappointing if he had not taken it over,” Erich said. “It’s been in the family so long. It would be a shame to see it go. It would be a shame to see all of the hard work and my grandpa’s whole life’s work in shambles.”
Mitch wasn’t planning to return to La Crescent after he finished his bachelor’s degree in finance and entrepreneurial management.
But once he heard the Buehlers were leaving, it wasn’t even a question.
“I knew if I don’t, no one else will, and it ends opportunities here,” he said.
So he moved back in June and has since been preparing for today’s opening.
It’s still a family operation, Mitch said. Everyone chips in on the work, and he heads the day-to-day operations.
After this season, the family will sit down and decide exactly what direction they will take the business. They’ve tossed around ideas like re-opening the orchard or turning it into a vineyard. Erich might eventually come back to La Crescent to partner with his brother at the stand.
Until then, they’ll focus their attention on this year’s stand. And apples — lots and lots of apples.
September 10, 2012
LA CRESCENT, MN – When it appeared the Leidel family apple stand on the south side of La Crescent might not open this year after a 60-year run, Mitch Leidel found he had cider running in his veins and is now its manager.
Growing apples “is in the family. It’s in my blood,” he said.
He enjoys seeing the miracle of a tree bud out during spring and, with some management, produce apples in fall.
Mitch Leidel is the grandson of Victor Leidel, who turned the orchard that he inherited from his father, Henry Leidel, into a major commercial operation. But the family has since sold off part of its orchard land, and Bernie Buehler has managed the rest for more than two decades. When Buehler retired, they quit spraying the crop and doing other work that would make the apples commercially viable.
Buehler did continue operating the stand using apples from other growers.
Last year was Buehler’s final year, leaving the question of who would run the stand, and continue the family business.
“We don’t want either to die out,” said Mitch Leidel.
When growing up, he helped at the orchard and thought maybe he would come back some time. That “some time” became this year.
He finished classes at the University of Minnesota early and came home a few months ago to run the stand with apples from other orchards. The stand is open daily through late October.
He found an apple cider maker from Wisconsin to harvest this year’s crop, giving them some needed cash, and he’s hoping to get the orchard back into operation so he can sell Leidel fruit wholesale and at the stand next year.
His brother, Erich Leidel, already had a career going in the Twin Cities, so he couldn’t come down full time, though he does help, Mitch Leidel said.
“I had a lot more freedom,” he said.
Because of its topography, La Crescent once had about 40 orchards, he said. The smaller ones slowly closed, leaving only seven big ones that sell wholesale.
Though La Crescent has fewer orchards, “there’s still a pretty rich history around here,” he said. “I want to maintain that rich history, the same thing (as) my grandfather. He spent his life doing this.”
Leidel chose a tough year to start. Though the crop tastes good, a hard frost in May wiped out maybe half the crop locally, he said. That means a lot less fruit, and higher prices.
He has some important help, however. One of his workers is his mother, Renee Leidel, who’s regular job is with Dairyland Power Cooperative.
It took them a while to reverse roles and have the son gives directions to his mother. But it’s working, both said.
“Am I proud of him?” his mother said. “Oh, my gosh, yes.”
“I think we make a very good team,” her son said.
September 13, 2012
LA CRESCENT, MN (WXOW) – Business is good at Leidel’s Apple Stand in La Crescent according to its new owner.
You may remember the stand was set to close when operators Bernie and Rosanne Buehler retired last fall. They had run the stand since 1988.
Mitch Leidel was not ready to let the family history go. His great, great grandfather secured the land for the first Leidel’s Apple Orchard in the 1860’s. So he changed his plans, graduated early from the University of Minnesota and returned to La Crescent to make sure the stand would open again this summer.
He says he’s enjoying the business and learning a lot. And, he says it’s great to see people who have support the stand, in some cases, for 60 years.
Leidel says it was a difficult spring and challenging summer. The result – a smaller crop of apples. But he says he likes to tell customers while the quantity is low, the quality is high.
Leidel’s Apple Stand is offering a number of varieties right now. The stand is open weekdays from 10 until 6 except Tuesday when it’s closed. Leidel’s is open weekends from 9 until 6.
September 28, 2012
The goal is not only see the business continue but also to expand and grow. With the help of friends, family, the community, and the Lord it seems very likely there is a future!
September 2, 2013
LA CRESCENT, MN (WXOW)—The Apple Capital of Minnesota may have had one less apple stand this year if another orchard owner didn’t step up to save Leidel’s Apples.
Leidel’s apples has been in the family for six generations, since 1917, no one in the Leidel family had the means to run the stand, on Highway 16, in La Crescent, this year.
It’s still owned by the Leidel family, but Tom Ferguson, owner of Ferguson’s Orchards, is running it this year.
While Ferguson was busy running his own orchard, in Galesville, two and a half weeks ago he got a phone call he wasn’t expecting.
“We had to think about it a little bit, we didn’t want to spread ourselves too thin but we said yeah we’d hate to see Leidel’s apple stand go out of business because once this is gone they’ll probably never be another one here.”
For years people, like Becky Haack have relied on Leidel’s as their place to get fresh fruit.
“We used come see Bernie (Buehler) and Roseanne and then the kids and grand kids,” Haack said.
Even though Ferguson is renting the stand for the year, he’ll keep the name, but most of the apples come from his orchard.
“It’s still pretty local only 22 miles away,” he said.
He said the stand is a good opportunity to cut out the middle man.
“Anytime we’re able to go direct to the customer the apples are better because the freshness, you can’t beat. I picked theses apples in my hand here this week,” Ferguson said.
And a good opportunity to help La Crescent live up to its name.
“I think it’s important to have good competition for different businesses to really make it the apple capital instead of just one or two businesses,” Haack said.
Ferguson is excited to be in the apple capital….but for now they’re just taking it one season at a time.
September 18, 2013
Just in the nick of time, the apple stand was saved.
For the second year in a row, questions lingered as to who might open and operate the historic and well-known Leidel’s Apple Stand on Minnesota Hwy. 16 in La Crescent, and for the second consecutive year, a willing manager stepped up.
Tom Ferguson, owner of Ferguson Orchard, is taking over for 2013. He agreed to take a shot at managing yet another facility just days before the stand’s typical opening date in mid-August.
“People in the area have responded real nicely,” he said. “They’re just happy to see that it’s still open.”
Ferguson has more than a decade of experience in the apple orchard business. He and wife Deb bought the former Kaste’s Orchard in Galesville, Wis., 12 years ago and built it into a tourist destination, which includes a country store, play area for children, seasonal events and pick-your-own-apple capabilities.
Three years ago, son Joe joined the family business and another plans to do so once he completes his tour of duty in the Marines, so they expanded their business to include another orchard in Eau Claire, Wis. At nearly the same time, the orchardist running a Lake City apple stand called and told Tom he was going to retire, so the family added that facility as well.
The owners of Leidel’s found themselves in the same situation. After the retirement of Bernie and Rosanne Buehler, 21-year-old Mitch Leidel, son of stand owner Kevin, took over management last year. But he decided to pursue other opportunities, so once again, the stand had no leader.
Area growers were solicited about the possibility of running the stand. None committed, but one did call Ferguson and ask whether he’d considered expanding his operation by taking on Leidel’s. So about a month ago, Ferguson and Kevin Leidel spoke and a deal was struck — all within the course of a day.
“We didn’t want to spread ourselves too thin,” Ferguson said, “but on the other hand, we just hated the idea that apple stand closing. Once that’s closed, I don’t know that there will be anything else there.
“It’s pretty hard to be the Apple Capital of Minnesota without having more than a couple apple stands.”
One of the main concerns was whether Ferguson could staff it adequately, but after tapping local employees who’ve worked there before, as well as putting in some hours with Deb, they decided they could make it work. But he didn’t take over simply to keep a historical stand in operation. He sees the potential to turn a profit in La Crescent.
“If we didn’t think we could make some money there, we wouldn’t do it,” Ferguson said. “It’s not one of those things a guy can get rich off of, but it will help some, especially after the horrible year last year. We’re still trying to recover from the devastation we had with the early frost.”
The transition was fairly seamless, with staff and infrastructure in place. It was then just a matter of stocking apples.
And stocking they have. About 99 percent of the fruit will come from Ferguson’s orchards, which shouldn’t be a problem, as he grows about 120 acres between his two locations. Another 40 are on the way next year.
With that volume comes variety. Red Free, State Fair, Paula Red, Zestar and La Crescent (grown locally) are already available, as are SweeTango and Wealthy. Ferguson grows 50 varieties, and although they won’t all be at the stand, about 40 will, including Pazazz and RiverBelle, two new varieties that are both “children” of the popular Honeycrisp. RiverBelle is currently available and Pazazz likley will come in the first week of October, Ferguson said.
Though the varieties are new and the management has changed, the stand’s name will remain the same, at the request of the family. Stand owner Kevin Leidel couldn’t be reached for comment.
Depending upon how the stand does this year, Ferguson said he’s open to managing it indefinitely. Right now, he’s simply taking it a year at a time.
“This is our test year and then we’ll see,” he said. “But if things work out and the Leidels are open to it, we’d definitely be interested in keeping it going.”