La Crosse Tribune: Leidel’s Apples
LA CRESCENT, MN – The future of nearly a century of family history and hard work came down to 21-year-old Mitch Leidel.
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.