Minnesota Harvest blossoms again

  • Article by: KATIE HUMPHREY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 14, 2011 - 4:05 PM

A group of Jordan business owners stepped in to reopen the popular orchard that closed last fall.

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Pastor Steve Thompson of Hope Lutheran Church in Jordan offered a prayer at the “Blessing of the Blossoms” celebration at the reopened Minnesota Harvest orchard. In back are Donna Knox, ­Noah Knox, Kevin Breeggemann, Kevin Knox, Susan Kelly and Susan Mecredy.

Photo: David Brewster, Star Tribune

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There will be another Minnesota Harvest after all.

The popular orchard outside Jordan, which closed last year at the end of apple-picking season, is reopening under new management.

Already this spring they invited the public to a "Blessing of the Blossoms," and by fall they hope for a bumper crop of apples.

"We've been pruning trees and cleaning and restoring. We've been at it for about six months now," said Kevin Knox, one of the partners in K2 Legacy Investments, the new management company. "My interest is to keep the orchard a thriving part of Scott County."

Knox, owner of the Nicolin Mansion Bed & Breakfast, was friends with longtime orchard owner John "Topper" Sponsel.

Sponsel died in 2006, about a year after selling the orchard, which had fallen into debt in the 1990s, to a developer.

His former wife and daughters kept the orchard running through the remainder of a five-year lease that expired last year. Absent another operator when the 2010 harvest was up, they sold the equipment and offered trees for $100 if people would come get them.

But Sponsel's sister, Susan Kelly, joined with Knox and Kevin Breeggemann to save Minnesota Harvest, which draws thousands of people each year. They have a three-year management agreement with the landowner.

"There is an asset out here with a number of people involved," said Kelly, who helped plant the apple trees with her family. "It really cannot just be left to dangle in the breeze."

But there's a lot of work to be done to return the orchard to its glory days.

The buildings need facelifts. Breeggemann, who restored the Nicolin Mansion and the brewery building in downtown Jordan, will lead that effort.

They've been cleaning, painting and repairing windows, with plans to open the apple lodge and packing house and have the cider house running by fall.

They also are rounding up more equipment, since much of the old equipment was sold when the orchard closed.

But above all, they've been caring for the thousands of apple trees and the orchard grounds.

The "Blessing of the Blossoms" event was meant as a welcome-back gesture to the public.

"We want more of a park setting than just an orchard or a farm," Breeggemann said. "We want it to be a place where people can come up and enjoy the entire grounds."

They anticipate hosting live music during the harvest, when families can come to pick apples, ride through the orchard and explore a corn maze.

Other things, like the ability to host weddings or horseback trail rides, are farther out.

"It's going to take us a while to put together the program that people are used to," Kelly said.

Still, early feedback from the Jordan area has been positive, said Knox, whose inn has previously been a stopping point for people who come for a weekend away from the city.

"It's quite incredible the impact this place has on people," he said. "The local residents have just been tickled. It's been a big part of their lives."

Katie Humphrey • 952-882-9056

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