Big changes are under way at Community Orchard.
Owners Bev and Greg Baedke have added new features designed to enhance the fun at the already successful enterprise that has become one of north central Iowa's most popular attractions.
An elaborate new play area called the Back 40 Playground and an additional food service venue named the Back 40 Eatery are beginning to serve customers this month.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
A crew prepares to install the Back 40 Playground sign above the entrance at Community Orchard, 2237 160th St.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Among the attractions at the Back 40 Playground are miniature horses, goats and llamas.
"The new play area is 4 acres," said Bev Baedke. "We have a new animal area with llamas, goats, mini-ponies and potbellied pigs. We have a jumping pillow that probably is going to be one of the most popular features. Approximately 20 to 30 people can jump on it at the same time. The jumping pillow's going to be hugely loved by teenagers. We're also having a tire mountain - a mountain of tires to climb."
Additionally, there's a 30-foot, farm-tile slide, a corn box with 200 bushels of corn in which kids can play and pedal karts for older kids and fun-loving adults.
And that's not all.
About Community Orchard
Owned today by Bev and Greg Baedke, the Baedke family's involvement with the orchard began 50 years ago. The original owners, Dr. Paul C. and Edna Otto, employed Greg Baedke's parents, Don and Darlene Baedke, to help evolve what had the potential to be a thriving business. By the early 1980s, the orchard was owned exclusively by Baedke family members. The current owners have been the sole proprietors since 1990.
Today, Community Orchard, 2237 160th St., is a great deal more than the "few apple trees" the Ottos planted all those decades ago. Bev Baedke said about 50 of the property's 100 acres are planted in apple trees. She said there are now between 5,000 and 6,000 trees producing 20 varieties of apples.
Apples are at the heart of the operation, but there is a good deal more to the story of Community Orchard.
Open to the public from Aug. 1 through Dec. 23, Community Orchard's many delights attract local patrons and customers from across Iowa and beyond. The bakery and Apple Orchard Cafe are major draws. So too is the Apple Attic Gift Shop, which stocks a few apple-themed items, but has an inventory that focuses on unique home decor products.
Lunch is served in the cafe daily from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Desserts are available anytime Community Orchard is open, which during the season is 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays. The precise hours of the new play area are still evolving, but Baedke said initially it will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. The Back 40 Eatery will be open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The major enhancements at Community Orchard have necessitated staffing increases.
"We've hired about 15 extra," Baedke said.
In addition to the increase in seasonal employment, she said Chris Dayton has joined the team as a full-time, year-round event planner who also handles an array of marketing, promotion and human resources duties.
As the final touches were being put on the Back 40 Playground and Back 40 Eatery, Baedke said these new options and the expanded Apple Fest schedule should make the Community Orchard experience even better than in year's past.
"We're expecting large crowds," she said.
"We also have duck races," Baedke said. "There are old-fashioned pumps, and you pump your pump and the water pushes the duck along in a trough."
Baedke said the goal in creating the Back 40 Playground was to make visiting Community Orchard a more exciting and enjoyable experience for young folks of all ages.
"The play area we had before is more geared to 2- to 7-year-olds," she said. "We felt that we had a need here maybe to expand activities for all ages."
The elaborate new playground will have admission fees.
Adjacent to the play area is a new building that houses the Back 40 Eatery.
"We will be serving family friendly, kid-friendly festival food," Baedke said. "You will go in and order your food and pick up your food and take it outside and eat it under a roof. ... Half is a building and half is just the roof - like a pavilion style."
The food service at the Back 40 Eatery will primarily operate on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and when it is booked for special events. Baedke stressed that it is an additional option, not a replacement, for the bakery and Apple Orchard Cafe, which will continue to be the heart of the food service at Community Orchard.
The menu at the Back 40 Eatery, however, will have a different focus than the bakery and cafe.
"It's hamburgers. It's hot dogs. It's walking tacos," Baedke explained. "It's chocolate chip cookies right out of the oven. ... We're going to have milk because we're having cookies and Coke products and scarecrow soup. We're going to have caramel apple flat pies. ... And we'll have ice cream and slushies - kid friendly types of things."
Apple Fest will remain the highlight of the fall at Community Orchard, but it will take advantage of the new play and eating areas and will expand.
"It's going to be Friday, Saturday and Sunday for four weeks," Baedke said, noting that it gets under way this year the last weekend in September.
All the features that have made Apple Fest a local tradition are being retained. Centering the festival on the new playground and eating areas will strengthen the event and make it more enjoyable for the large crowds it attracts, Baedke said.
"At Apple Fest we'll have the hayrides to the pumpkin patch, we'll have the black hole again," she said. "We'll have all the games that we have at Apple Fest incorporated in that (Back 40) area."