BRODHEAD - For the last 180 years, the Ten Eyck farm in Brodhead has grown to become a local staple that's now run by sixth generation family members.
Drew Ten Eyck, co-owner of Ten Eyck Orchard with his father Robert, said if it wasn't for his grandfather's decision to sell the farm's 150 dairy cows, the must-see fall destination in the Stateline Area might not exist.
Ten Eyck, along with farm staff and longtime employee and resident beekeeper Opal John, helps keep the 300 acres and some-10,000 apple trees ripe for producing around 60 variations of scrumptious apples. He's learned how to grow apples since age 5, learning about the land and farming techniques along the way.
Work on the farm starts early, at 4 a.m., when Ten Eyck starts the day preparing for harvest and eventual sale of the apples, baked goods and pumpkins. Horse-drawn wagon rides and a massive corn maze help draw families from around the area.
Ten Eyck and John both came backto the farm after having "normal" lives in the outside workforce, something that's harder and harder to find in small town America as family farms struggle.
Ten Eyck came back four years ago after working at a corporation where he didn't find fulfillment. The urge to help the farm succeed while finding his passion for the outdoors and entrepreneurial spirit motivated him.
"It's less common now to have young people like us come back. It's rarer and rarer because there's fewer small family farms left," he said. "Now we have a niche market where apples have enough value that we can get by and thrive."
John started on the farm in 2000 as a summer worker, but now if you visit on a beautiful fall weekend day, you'll see her front-and-center in the farm's main retail space.
She saw the benefit of the previous resident beekeeper and was hooked, learning the beekeeping trade organically through handed down generational knowledge. John bought 10 hives from a local woman and hasn't looked back.
Wander up the bluffs to the orchard and you could make your way to the hives that are hidden from the elements and required crop sprays. The bees are key to pollinating the farm's apple trees, resulting in unique honey variations every season.
"This whole farm is just phenomenal for all of the woodland flowers, the trees, the water, the prairie and the apple blossoms," she said. "Sometimes it's mild and sometimes it's spicier. It's fun because it gives it a uniqueness and people come in and taste it. It has so many different flavors depending on the season."
As the pair talked about the farm, their love for the area is apparent. They talk fondly about the benefits of working for yourself and caring for the land.
"Being busy isn't bad," Ten Eyck said. "It's always nice to be doing something. We spent the whole year preparing for these few harvest months. Just like any farm it takes a huge capital investment and you count on getting things back at the end of the year."
And that capital investment has been threatened by two consecutive wet and cold spring seasons, with the heavy rains impacting harvesting schedules.
Some farmers in the area have the ability to accept an insurance payout for not planting crops, but at Ten Eyck Orchard, the trees must always be cared for.
"You can prepare as much as possible to be ready but you can never control the weather and some things will always go wrong," Ten Eyck said. "It is just such a busy time that when you can I always try to get as much picked as possible because lately we have had very rainy falls which make getting the crop off the trees very difficult."
For the anniversary, Ten Eyck said he takes extra pride in his work and tradition of customer service.
"It's special to me because that's a big number and you need some luck but to be smart about how you take care of a farm that's been around for generations," he said.
That tradition is centered around a nearly 100 year old round barn, a unique historic piece of a bygone era of farming. The circular barn was designed to allow one person to be able to feed, house and tend to dairy cows.
The barn is off limits to the public, but the Beloit Daily News got a sneak peak inside the old barn that has a grainery silo at its center. On a clear day, the sun shines through the silo to light up the barn's core.
"It's really unique for us to have and it's so recognizable," Ten Eyck said. "I like to appreciate this place a lot. It's beautiful and I love taking care of it. I love being able to do what I want and being outside. Few jobs that I've seen let you do that. Few people start and finish something. I felt like I had to see this through, and in a way that's what helped bring me back to it."
The Ten Eyck Orchard is located at W968 Hwy 11 & 81, Brodhead. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, from the end of August until mid-November. To learn more about the farm, visit teneyckorchard.com.