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WCCO Viewers' Choice For Best Apple Orchard In Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - Fall apple picking is a Minnesota tradition.

With more than one hundred orchards to choose from, everyone has their favorite. But we asked you to vote for the Best of Minnesota. And you sent Natalie Nyhus to Pleasant Valley Orchard in Shafer.

The story of Pleasant Valley Apple Orchard started with a seed. It was an idea that lingered in the back of Jim Birkholz's mind since college.

"We had a bet amongst friends on who could build the best apple pie," he said. I thought if you want to win this competition, you have to go to an orchard and get good apples! So I went to a local orchard and bought some Harrelson apples. I made my pie and I won."

And thus, that seed was planted.

It began to take shape years later when Jim went shopping for a boat. As his wife Judy recalls, he came home with a farm.

"I was like, 'Well, you can't just buy the first farm you see!'" she said. "But it made sense. So we bought the farm. Or we purchased the land and created the farm."

As their dream grew, so did their family.

"When we started, they were just babies and toddlers," Erickson said. "In the original building, I have pictures of Joe when he was a baby and Jim was refinishing. In the original sales room there were toys everywhere. It was just us."

Today, their children, Joe, Amelia and Sam, help out on the farm.

"Growing up you do this so much over the years, it just kind of becomes a part of you," said their son Joe Birkholz. "As I've gotten older, I appreciate it more. I get to work with my brother, sister and side-by-side with my dad. Not many people get to work with their family like that."

Jim and Judy built their orchard on family values and a good old-fashioned, pick-your-own apples approach.

"We are very family oriented," Erickson said. "We don't have a lot of bells and whistles. When we started the orchard and as we grew it, we wanted to stay traditional."

It's a place to come for a bag of apples, a piece of pie or a slice of heaven.

"That's an important part of our business; not only to grow and sell apples, but to give people joy," Birkholz said. "To come out here, have a good time with their families, create some memories, take some pictures and leave with some high quality apples, the best they can buy."

For the last 23 years, Pleasant Valley Orchard has sat on a hillside overlooking 12 acres of apple trees, pumpkins and strawberries.

But it was once just a seedling of an idea, planted long ago.

"I've been told that we are living the dream," Birkholz said. "We feel like we are. I have to tell you, it's a lot of hard work to deliver the product our customers expect. It's rewarding. I like the fact that we deliver our product directly to our customers. And that makes it a lot more fun."

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