Apple of His Eye Orchard

Apple of His Eye Orchard

Richard Sochacki wasn’t looking for a change of vocation when he stopped at an apple orchard and began making friends with the people who owned it. In ensuing conversations, Sochacki’s learned about apple production and four years ago, Richard and his wife decided to give a go at their own apple orchard and now have 320 trees growing.

In addition to the apple orchard, they also have a gift shop, which offers apple butter, apple pie filling and apple cider among other things. Although apples are their main product, when they are in season, Apple of His Eye Orchard, also offers tomatoes, peaches, sweet corn and green beans.

How They Got Started
Once the Sochacki’s knew they wanted to start an apple orchard, they planted their trees and did the only thing they could do … wait. While the apple orchard grew, Richard did all he could to learn about operating a small business. He joined the small business development corporation and now has two binders full of information on how to operate his orchard.

Through this time, Sochacki started to buy fruit to resell and working to get his orchard growing. Once the trees started bearing fruit, the gift shop was being filled with apple products, other seasonal foods and gift items such as candles and gift baskets.

A major challenge that the Sochacki’s have met is trying to figure out what sells and what doesn’t. At the moment, they are in the process of phasing out candles and the gift baskets since they haven’t been selling that well. As Sochacki says, he needs to keep his focus on the “main thing.” When some customers suggested he should have bees and make them the main thing, he disagrees and points out that they are an apple orchard and should focus on the apples.   

Right now, their biggest concern is having facilities to produce their product. They want to ensure that any new product they launch is as popular as their apple cinnamon donuts. The donut preparation requires a lot of work on their part but is very popular.

Richard developed the recipe for the apple cinnamon donut and with the help of Pillsbury was able to produce the product. He’s very happy to point out that not only is he one of the few people with an orchard who also has a bakery background but the recipe uses their own apple butter.

Richard is also proud of the fact that so far they haven’t needed to take out any loans. Since the orchard is a seasonal business, Richard was worried that he would need to take out a loan and have a balloon payment on something that is only pulling in money limited times of the year. But, with the help of people from surrounding universities and a Value Added Agriculture Producer grant, they are still able to keep up the orchard without taking out a large loan.

Finally, Richard says that his biggest success has been the apples actually growing. Apple of His Eye Orchard now offers “old favorites” such as Cortland and Jonathon as well as “new favorites” like Honeycrisp and Pristine.

Future Goals
Richard says he always has to have goals. Although they don’t want to get too big, they would like to expand some more. Bringing in new customers and welcoming back new ones is also on the top of the goal list.

After an email came from a lady who was interested in buying some apples and needed them shipped, Richard realized this may be an untapped market and to his surprise, it was quite easily done. He is exploring offering shipping of his apple products.

How They Utilized the VAPG Funding
Apple of His Eye Orchard was given the VAPG funding in 2006. With it, they have put the loan money toward building up the orchard, helping to promote it and working to make the operations run more smoothly.

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VAPG funding has been offered by the USDA periodically since the early 2000s. A new round of funding is anticipated to be announced in the coming months. To be considered value added, projects must show how products are differentiated in specific ways from commodity crops. Typically, projects must also show how they may deliver greater returns to producers.

Independent producers, farmer or rancher cooperatives, agricultural producer groups, and producer-owned business ventures, including non-profit organizations, may apply. In previous cycles, applicants were required to be producers of the raw commodity who will maintain ownership of that commodity through the process of creating a value-added product. Grants have been available for planning projects (such as marketing and business plans and feasibility studies) and working capital projects (which might include wages or packaging supplies). (