Orchard changing owners

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Jason Smathers
Saturday, July 3, 2010
— Those searching for apples at the Janesville Farmers Market this year might notice a popular vendor missing.

That’s because Arrowhead Orchard is being sold. Whether it continues on as an orchard depends on the buyer.

Wendy Schaefer, who runs the business with her husband, Ken, said the couple is ready to retire.

“After being up until one in the morning on Friday night and then getting up at 3 again to get the trucks loaded and stuff, you know, we wanted a break,” she said.

The family put the land up for auction and is close to securing a buyer. Auctioneer Bill Perkins says the potential buyer has indicated he would keep the orchard rather than develop it.

If the potential buyer doesn’t come through, however, Perkins said the orchard would likely be split up and sold to a neighbor. Twenty acres would go to the neighbor, who would use it for cornfields. Another four acres would be sold separately as a farmette.

If the apple trees stay, however, the buyer could be in for a long haul. Families tend to work the orchard in decade shifts. The Schaefers bought it from the Atkinson family in 2000 and another family ran the orchard, which was first planted in 1981, before that.

Before buying Arrowhead, the Schaefers lived in Clinton for five years. Wendy, however, missed the country atmosphere of her earlier years in Turtle Township.

Then the orchard came up for sale.

“I looked at my husband and said, ‘Oh we should buy the orchard!’” Wendy said. “We came in here fresh as babies butts and had no idea what we were doing.”

Despite having never run a business, let alone an apple orchard, the two took a chance.

The gamble paid off.

Sure there were profits nearly every year, but it was the intangibles the Schaefers remember: The parties, the country life and the added responsibility for kids Kevin and Rebecca, who worked the orchard and vendor stands at farmers markets.

After a couple years, the orchard was already expanding. The Schaefers built a full commercial kitchen, brought school buses full of kids in for tours and started trucking their wares across south central Wisconsin.

In later years, however, there were a few bumps. The recession took its toll, but not as much as one might expect. Despite slower business, the orchard broke even in 2008 and 2009.

Though the business remains profitable, it is just barely worth what it was when the Schaefers bought it a decade ago.

Earlier in the year, Kevin Schaefer resigned from the Janesville Farmers Market’s Board of Directors amidst a dispute about vendor slots. Despite the strife, Wendy Schaefer said Arrowhead’s departure from the market had nothing to do with the squabbles, and that her family has loved the time they’ve had in Janesville.

Wendy also said Arrowhead will likely return to the Janesville Farmers Market for a few weeks to sell its remaining apples, but then she’s ready to move on.

“I’m still holding my baton, waiting to hand it off,” she said.

Last updated: 2:26 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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