There's a good chance you've had one of Charlie Johnson's apples — or read his book. Can't say that about too many people. So, Farmer Johnson, how did you end up supplying apples to a nation hungry for a nutritious, crisp snack?
"We moved to the farm in 1972, we started with Hereford cattle, did some gardening and decided to plant a few apple trees, and kept planting and planting."
Well, apple trees must be easier than cattle; no worries about them wandering away. Were you always a farm type?
"My wife and I both lived in town. When we first got married, we spent two years in the Dominican Republic. At the time they were having a revolution and the U.S. sent people down to get things going again, and one of the groups that were sent down was from Texas A&M to help them with their farming practices. We got to know them, and that got us interested in farming."
What took you to the Dominican Republic? "We were teachers." Ah. What's easier, teaching or farming? "Farming," he chuckles. "You're more in control of what you do." And if you have a bad crop of students or apples, there's always next year.
As for the apples, well, not every one is perfect and ready for the grocery store. "An apple might have slight hail damage or be bruised. There's a very good market for those — more and more folks are getting into the hard-cider business."
Really? That was the official drink of the American Revolution — probably favored by people who think hipsters ruined craft beer.
Somehow, between managing 10,000 trees, he found time to write a children's book titled "Emmy of Whistling Well Farm." How did that come about?
"My wife worked for 3M. When she retired, the guy she worked with got her a springer spaniel for a retirement gift. My wife passed away about three years ago, and I did the story, in memory of her, to tell a story about the farm."
The book, published by Beaver's Pond Books in 2012, follows Emmy the springer spaniel through an average day, and as Charlie describes the life on the orchard, it's full: pruning, planting, setting out moth traps, mowing, beekeeping. Always something — but come fall there's time to let folks visit the farm and pick pumpkins.
So next time you wonder whether your apples come from a faceless agricultural producer, think of Charlie and the continuing tradition of the Minnesota family farm. Speaking of continuing, how long do you think the farm will go on? "I have a son," he says, with a smile in his voice. "He'll take over the orchard."