Brandt and Kelsey Schisler of Hickory Ridge Orchard have been members of Columbia Farmers Market since 2018. A year later, Tommy and Kaitlyn Swon joined them as business partners. Hickory Ridge is a family-run orchard, specializing in a variety of fresh apples, peaches, pears, and produce from their garden and eggs from their free-range chickens. The orchard is located in Mexico, Missouri.
“Our apples are good for fresh eating, baking, and cooking with a range of flavors and crispness,” Brandt said. “We also produce byproducts from our fruit such as apple and peach butter, apple chips, applesauce, and mini apple pies.”
Beyond the Columbia Farmers Market, Hickory Ridge Orchard is a full agritourism farm and an orchard that promotes “Family Fun on the Farm.” It provides families with the opportunity to pick-ur-own apples, pick-ur-own pumpkins, hay rides, train rides, corn maze, corn cannon, petting zoo, feed the fish area, nature trail, and a full farm store packed with primitive antiques, canned goods, baked goodies, and ice cream.
In the fall, when the agritourism business is in full swing, Hickory Ridge Orchard employs several paid employees, volunteers, and family members who are an integral part of the team, he said.
Before Hickory Ridge Orchard purchased the orchard in 2017, it was known as Binders Hilltop Apple & Berry Farm and was operated by Sandy Binder, a former member of Columbia Farmers Market. Brandt appreciates the mentoring of Sandy and numerous other orchard gurus for teaching Kelsey and him “many of our practices from the beginning.”
After studying organic orcharding for the past four to five years, Brandt said they recently have decided to take the orchard in a new direction.
“This season will be our first season producing chemical-free fruit on the orchard, and we are both nervous and excited for this new endeavor. We are using all-natural products that include the use of neem oil, karanja oil, liquid kelp, liquid fish, surround clay, and beneficial microbes. We hope to continue on this path for the years to come so that we can become organic certified.”
Brandt believes in the importance of buying from local food producers.
“First and foremost, nothing tastes quite like a freshly grown local product. When the product is grown to ripeness, rather than picked early, and does not have to travel hundreds of miles before getting to your table,” he said. “It is at that moment that people realize they have made a good, healthy decision.”
Hickory Ridge Orchard is a member of the local Missouri Farm Bureau, Mexico Young Farmers, and Missouri Grown USA. Working with the State of Missouri, the orchard owners hope to start a Missouri fruit growers association so that growers can network.
Check out hickoryridgeorchards.com for more information about the farm or to schedule a visit.