Cider craze, drought and pandemic bring change and creativity to Sweetland Orchard


A desire to be social and safe in September 2020 prompted many people to find outdoor activities that they could enjoy with their friends and family.

Apple orchards across the state, including Sweetland Orchard in Webster, have seen a rapid increase in foot traffic and have prompted many homeowners to find creative ways to keep guests and staff safe.

Sweetland Orchard’s Gretchen Prebix joined MPR News host Tom Crann in this week’s episode of Appetites.

Gretchen and Mike Prebix bought Sweetland Orchard in 2010. Last year, due to the pandemic, they stopped offering apple and cider tastings inside their property barn and instead started offering tasting kits for guests to discover for themselves.

The experience at Sweetland Orchard relies very little on human interaction. You book your tastings online – choosing between apple and cider tastings – then adding any extras you want, like apple cider donuts or meat and cheese to be enjoyed on the spot. Upon arrival, you collect your kit – a wooden apple crate filled with your order – inside the barn, then find a place in their farm to make yourself comfortable.

A handwritten map of the orchard gives patrons the freedom to walk around in confidence, and step-by-step instructions with tasting notes let people work their cider or apples at their own pace.

The couple live on the farm with their two children, two dogs, a pet turkey and lots of chicken. It is not uncommon to see one of their children playing in the woods next to the orchard or driving around the farm utility vehicle with a dog on their feet.

Sweetland Orchards is open for the season on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but closes when there is more than a 50 percent chance of rain or when the maximum forecast is below zero.

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