Apples, pears, pumpkins and more on the farm
Brandt Schisler had a void. The condo he and his wife, Kelsey, owned in Colorado just wasn’t the same as the traditional rural farm he and his brother ran around growing up. It was tight quarters with not much of a yard to speak of.
“Ultimately I had this deep, burning feeling that I wanted to return back to farming,” he says. “I missed it. That’s when it hit me about eight or nine years ago that we had to make a change.”
The Schislers scratched that itch and in 2018 opened Hickory Ridge Orchards just outside of Mexico. The orchard features apples, peaches, pears and pumpkins all grown onsite along with plenty of family-friendly activities.
They knew they wanted to get back to the Midwest and the couple were eyeing mid-Missouri as a destination for land to start their orchard and agritourism business. Brandt put an ad on Craigslist in his search for land that ended up in front of Sandy Binder who owned Sandy’s Apples and Alpacas. She was looking to sell her orchard just outside of Mexico.
They moved from Fort Collins to Columbia to be closer to the area and after some back and forth, the Schislers had the winning bid to purchase the 38-acre property in the fall of 2017.
“I loved it when I saw it,” Brandt says. “But holy cow there was a lot here to manage and take care of.”
The original 450 trees from the farm allowed them to open Hickory Ridge in 2018. However, they’re replacing those trees and adding more. “They definitely gave us our start, but older trees can have disease or other issues that can spread. By removing and replacing and starting out organically from the beginning, we’re building out our orchard for agritourism.”
Brandt and Kelsey — Consolidated Electric members — added 400 apple trees in 2018 and 200 peach and 36 pear trees the following year. This spring they added 1,000 additional apple trees. “When we’re done we could have 4,000 or 4,500 trees just using the orchard land we’ve got now,” says Tommy Swon, the Schislers’ farm partner.
The move toward an organic orchard began in 2019 and it takes three years to be certified organic. It’s not an easy process. “You have to use certain sprays and keep a log of dates, times and amounts of what you’re spraying,” Brandt says. “But we know that could potentially be our niche. Once we’re certified, we have the possibility of being the largest organic orchard in Missouri.”
Hickory Ridge is an agritourism destination as well, especially in the fall when the farm opens up for visitors to pick their own apples or pumpkins or take in any of the activities throughout the farm.
“Our main goal is that we’re a true farm first. We’re stewards of the land first and agritourism second,” Brandt says. “But when children or even their parents visit us it can be a good education on where your food comes from.”
Admission and parking are free at the orchard. Your day can include a walk around the nature trail, visiting the goats or looking through the many Missouri-made products available. You can buy tickets to ride in a small train around the farm, go for a hayride, navigate the corn maze or shoot off the corn cannon. Make sure to try their freshly pressed apple cider or hand-dipped caramel apples too.
“It’s been quite the experience sharing our livelihood and property with visitors every weekend for a few months, but that’s the point of agritourism,” says Kelsey. “When people are out here, they see the farm when it’s nice and cleaned up. They don’t see the blood, sweat and tears that go into it year round.”
Brandt says picking your own fruit or enjoying it the day it was picked is a giant step up from the produce section at a big-box store. “A lot of people don’t realize that if you buy a Pink Lady apple in April, it was probably picked the previous October and stored in compression chambers. Then it travels 500 to 1,000 miles to the grocery store. When you pick your own, it’s different. The flavor and everything is there and it’s much more nutrient dense.”
That flavor and the experience of being on the farm is what has sent so many to the orchard again and again.
“When a lot of people come here this is their one or two times that year they get away and step onto a full-functioning farm,” he says. “Then you can head into the orchard and pick what you want. And an apple just tastes better when you’re eating it in the orchard.”
For more information on Hickory Ridge Orchard, visit www.hickoryridgeorchards.com or call 573-721-1415.