Cider craze, drought and pandemic brings change and creativity to Sweetland Orchard

Gretchen and Mike Prebix have owned the orchard outside Webster since 2010.

A view of a barn at Sweeland Orchard.
The pandemic pushed Sweetland Orchard in Webster, Minn., to move tastings from the barn to individual kits guests can purchase and take with them around the orchard. Because of the limited indoor space, the orchard relies on good weather to stay open to guests in the fall.
Lindsay Guentzel | MPR News

An eagerness to be social and safe in September 2020 pushed lots of people to find outdoor activities they could enjoy with friends and family.

Apple orchards across the state, including Sweetland Orchard in Webster, saw a quick increase in foot traffic and it pushed lots of owners to find creative ways to keep guests and staff safe.

Gretchen Prebix of Sweetland Orchard joined MPR News host Tom Crann on this week’s episode of Appetites.

Gretchen and Mike Prebix bought Sweetland Orchard in 2010. Last year, because of the pandemic, they stopped providing apple and cider tastings inside their property’s barn and instead started offering tasting kits for guests to experience on their own.

The experience at Sweetland Orchard relies very little on human interaction. You book your tastings online — choosing between apple and cider tastings — then add any extras you might want, like apple cider doughnuts or meat and cheese to enjoy on-site. When you arrive, you pick up your kit — a wooden apple crate filled with your order — inside the barn and then find a spot on their farm to get comfortable.

A hand-written map of the orchard gives guests the freedom to roam around confidently and step-by-step instructions with tasting notes allows people to work through their cider or apples at their own pace.

The couple live on the farm with their two children, two dogs, pet turkey and lots of chicken. It’s not uncommon to spy one of their children playing in the woods next to the orchard or driving around the farm’s utility vehicle with a dog in tow.

Sweetland Orchards is open for the season on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays but close when there is a more than 50 percent chance of rain or when the projected high is below freezing.

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