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Best of the CRANDIC: Wilson’s Orchard and Farm is welcomed into a new agrihood


Kali Slaymaker picks tulips during Wilson’s Orchard and Farm’s inaugural Tulip Festival, May 7, 2022. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

In summer, there’s raspberries and strawberries, cherries and tomatoes, apples and blueberries. The apple season carries over into fall, along with pumpkins and blooming flowers. From above, the lines of orchards and plantings crisscross over 90 acres.

Wilson’s Orchard and Farm, a short trip off Hwy 1 north of Iowa City, is a “you-pick” orchard with a growing event space, featuring Thursday Night Farm Sessions (with musicians like Little Village art director Jordan Sellergren), yoga nights and weddings. There are sunflower festivals, tulip festivals and pumpkin festivals.

It is also the winner of the 2022 Best of the CRANDIC award for Best Local Farm.

Apples at Wilson’s Orchard in Iowa City. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

Next year, Wilson’s will expand beyond Iowa City, adding a new 115-acre location in Des Moines, owner Paul Rasch announced in October. Like its Iowa City counterpart, the new location will have a seasonal farm market, bakery, cider bar and restaurant. But these buildings will be combined into one facility with a large indoor and outdoor seating area, and it will also produce hard cider.

The farm will have familiar fruits, flowers and vegetables, and they’ll dedicate 30 acres to pasture livestock, including sheep, pigs and chicken. Wilson’s broke ground at the new location in November and plans to open for the strawberry season in 2023.

The new location is coming to Iowa’s first agrihood, a 900-acre development that integrates agriculture with mixed residential, retail and commercial priorities. The $800 million project, called Middlebrook, will have a small farm, barn, parks, townhomes and a town center. Over the next decade, Middlebrook plans to build 1,500 homes. Wilson’s will border the development, connected by a series of trails.

Wilson’s Orchard has roots stretching back to the 1800s, when two German immigrants, Leonhard and Catherine Degen Brack, bought the land and started growing their family.

The land passed down to their son, Peter, who sold it to James Krall in March of 1900. The Krall family managed the farm until 1980, when Robert and Joyce Wilson bought the property. The Wilson’s soon started planting an apple orchard.

In 2009, Rasch and Sara Goering became the new owners. They built a new barn and expansions to the farm market, then began renovating the orchard. The Ciderhouse and Venue, a restaurant and event space, was built in 2016. By 2020, the farm diversified their crops and renewed sustainability efforts.

The Des Moines farm will continue advancing sustainability to improve soil and water quality, reduce erosion, sequester carbon and use integrated pest management to reduce reliance on pesticides.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 313.


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