Richard Tanner vividly recalls hauling truckloads of apples hundreds of miles with his late father, John, whenever they had a big crop.
“We used to haul a lot of apples to Chicago and St. Louis,” Tanner told FarmWeek. “In the mid-1980s we had some big crops.”
It was about that time the Tanners attended a meeting hosted by the Illinois Fruit Council (now the Illinois Specialty Growers Association) and came up with a new concept for their operation.
The Tanners decided to shift more of their focus from apple production and distribution to marketing and brand development/promotion. The Tanners in the process turned their farm, located at Speer near Peoria, from an orchard into a destination.
“We put more emphasis on marketing and offering something for the whole family,” Tanner said.
Tanner’s Orchard offers a variety of apples, apple-based products such as cider, gourmet food, and gifts. The farm features a playground area, corn maze, and offers a daily lunch menu.
Tanner’s also hosts festival days and offers barrel train rides, pony rides, a petting zoo, and pedal cars for children’s amusement.
The investment and emphasis on marketing allowed the operation to blossom. Tanner’s Orchard on a single weekend day often attracts between 5,000 and 6,000 people. The largest single-day crowd was 6,600 people.
The business this year is celebrating its 65th anniversary.
“We’re thankful we got the market going,” Tanner said. “This time of year is our busiest season.”
Tanner, who runs the operation with his wife, Marilyn, their son, Craig, and daughter, Jennifer Beaver and her family, averted a disaster this year.
A freeze on April 11 caused all the blossoms on their apple trees to abort. The Tanners have more than 11,000 trees that produce 17 varieties of apples.
“We lost our entire crop,” Tanner said. “We made some new contacts in Michigan and Wisconsin and found a lot of good, quality apples. We’ll have enough for cider.”
The Tanners also grow 20 acres of ornamental pumpkins. That crop did fairly well this year in the hot, dry conditions.
“They’re not as large as I’d like to see them, but there’s a lot of them,” Tanner said.
For more information or directions to Tanner’s Orchard, visit the website: www.tannersorchard.com