BAYFIELD, Wis. – Apple Hill Orchard near Bayfield is nestled in picturesque hills covered with fruit trees, berry bushes and grape vines. The orchard on the Bayfield Peninsula has been in operation for decades, but its new owners have been running the business for less than two years.
Mackenzie Smith and her fiancé Justin Sexton transitioned from an urban life in Wichita, Kansas, to a rural life a stone’s throw from Lake Superior. It was a gradual process, said Smith, who tends the orchard.
“I decided I wanted a new location,” she said as she sat in her fruit-sorting and sales area. “I lived in the middle of the country, and I lived in the South, and was ready for the North.”
She and Sexton both work at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin; she’s the head athletic trainer. They lived in Bayfield before moving to the orchard.
Though she had lived mostly in urban areas and had no previous experience in agriculture, Smith jumped in with both feet. Sorting sweet cherries while bantering with customers she had the look of someone who had been at the Apple Hill Orchard all her life. She said she was drawn to agriculture through her partner.
“My fiancé worked for the old owners for 20 years,” she said. “I had no idea of agriculture before starting here four years ago. The reason we decided to buy it is to keep it traditional. We love this place; we love Bayfield.”
For other women considering a life in agriculture she has advice.
“Be patient,” she said. “Know your limits. Be willing to evolve because it is always changing in agriculture. It is fun, it is a long haul and it’s a lot of work.”
Young farmers often find help and mentorship from experts who have a special interest in ensuring things go well.
“The old owners still come every day to help us out,” Smith said. “They are very involved still. Their thought when I started here four years ago was to train me and Justin in everything we need to know to survive. Even the other day we had something we had no idea how to handle. They jumped in and said, ‘This is what you do,’ and now we know how to do it in the future.”
Apple Hill Orchard is located in Bayfield’s “Fruit Loop” at 34980 County Highway J. Visit bayfield.org/what-to-do/orchards-berry-farms for more information.