The roots of the Jacobson family apple orchard go back to 1904, when the first saplings were planted on the shores of Pine Tree Lake, long before city boy Art Jacobson ever set foot on the soil. But in 1950, Art heard there was work out on an apple orchard in White Bear Lake, so he and his wife, Dickey, moved out of St. Paul and into the country. Little did he know that more than 60 years later his family would still call the orchard home, and Pine Tree Apple Orchard would be a successful family-run business.
“It was wonderful growing up on the farm,” says Barb, the oldest of Art and Dickey’s six children. She, Mary, John, Bill, Nancy and Jeanne had acres of rolling hillsides where they could run and play. The oldest three were close in age, and they became best friends, and so did the next three. But they had chores and responsibilities, too, to keep the orchard running smoothly. “There were times when our father wanted us to do something like go out and sort apples,” Barb says. “You didn’t really feel like it, but it goes with the territory.”
All of the chores and hard work paid off, because now all six run the orchard business together. The whole gang lives within six miles of each other, and some of Art and Dickey’s grandchildren are lending a hand, too. (Everyone from 86-year-old Dickey and the youngest grandkid, age 12, helps with the operation.) “It’s exciting and challenging,” says Barb of the orchard business. “But I know one of my siblings will be right there with me; everyone’s pulling 120 percent. There are no slackers in this family.”
With a booming apple business on 150 acres of land, the Jacobsons can’t afford to be anything less than industrious. In the past 20 years they began focusing efforts on becoming more efficient by growing smaller trees, using bushel bins instead of boxes and, in an effort not to put all their apples in the proverbial “one basket,” adding another orchard in Preston, Minn.
They’ve also started using sustainable practices throughout the orchard, with guidance from Food Alliance Midwest, a national organization that coaches agricultural producers on becoming more sustainable and environmentally friendly. At Pine Tree Apple Orchard, they now perform insect tests before spraying pesticides, for example; by setting out insect traps and keeping track of their numbers, the Jacobsons can be knowledgeable about what they’re dealing with and be reactive to any insect situation. “If we don’t get up to a certain number,” says John Jacobson, “then we don’t spray.” This keeps unnecessary pesticides out of the orchard.
For the most part, Pine Tree Apple Orchard is producing the same variety of apples as it did in 1958 when the family purchased it, but John points out that Honeycrisp was introduced in the ’90s, and right now Sweet Tango is the hot apple; they’ve eagerly added both to the orchard, which now produces 25 varieties. The University of Minnesota and private fruit breeders across the country are continually developing new breeds, and the Jacobsons enjoy testing them out at their orchard. But you can never replace the classic favorites, like the Haralson, which is popular for baking, points out Barb.
Every apple at the Jacobsons’ orchard has a purpose, whether it be for selling to the public, baking into a pie or making cider, so the important role of apple picking is left up to the family. But there are plenty of ways for visitors to enjoy the orchard, from savoring a fresh-baked apple pie with Dickey’s classic crust and sipping on Bill’s special apple cider to picking a pumpkin straight from the patch, getting lost in the corn maze and enjoying the views from a scenic wagon ride. “We are probably one of the highest points in Washington County,” explains Barb, “so we have a great view over Pine Tree Lake.”
Check out the website for special events, including musical guests, pony rides and a 5-mile fun-run. Apple harvest lasts until the end of October, with sales continuing into February.
Pine Tree Apple Orchard; 450 Apple Orchard Rd., Dellwood; 651.429.7202