Ironically, you can find the Haf’s Road Orchard next door to the Topples Tree Service; one property where you find carefully grown and tended trees and the other with its mountains of firewood and dead limbs.
Debbie and Richard Polansky are the intrepid owners of the Haf’s Road Orchard. And they aren’t just partial to fruit trees; they appear to like all kinds of trees. A 150 year old Box Elder tree guards the edge of the gravel drive into their orchard. A few gnarly dead branches snake out of the clumps of green leaves on top of its broad impossibly lumpy trunk. The Box Elder provokes conversation and picture taking while the apple trees produce some of the sweetest Honey Crisp and firmest bright tasting Newton Pippin apples we have ever tasted. These are but a sample of the 17 varieties that they produce.
There are two ways into the Haf’s Road Orchard; one oddly enough is Haf’s Road and the other is the hafsroadorchard.com website. The Robert Frost poem, Peril of Hope, opens their webpage, and will tell you some of the Richard and Debbie Polansky story. These are thoughtful people who care about what they do and how they do it. Their gourd sculpture hanging at the entrance to the store begets a quote, this one written by Daniel Webster. “Let us not forget that the cultivation of the earth is the most important labor of man. When tillage begins, other arts will follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of civilization.” Richard and Debbie live this.
Over two thousand apple trees dot the landscape of Haf’s Road Orchard. At least one thousand of these trees produce the honey crisp apple, a favorite of southeastern Wisconsin. Boxes line their farm store, each carrying the apples picked by the staff at Haf’s Road Orchard. The range of flavor is wide, from hard tart baking apples to those that are as sweet as corn in July. Many customers ask for the Granny Smith for making pies. At the orchard, there is some thought that the inventor of the Granny Smith had a relative who was the sole publisher of cook books in that era. Thus the only apple ever listed for making pies is the Granny Smith. Richard will give you a Sir Prize apple to sample, tell you the story of its invention and name, and ask you to put it into a pie. We did. Fantastic.
Debbie and Richard are no strangers to the risks of growing food. In 2012, the early spring was exceptionally warm, great for the tourists who visit the area from Chicago but not so good for the trees that bear the hopes and dreams of an orchard owner. Following the early warm weather, the temperatures dipped below freezing, ruining almost the entire crop of apples for the season. The trees still needed tending. The work still needed to be done. There was just no reward of a harvest.
There is a lot of conversation these days about slow food. It doesn’t get much slower than what the Polansky’s do. Plant an apple tree and you can wait as much as five years for serious production. A good orchardist is patient and knows that careful actions taken today can yield good fruit that will serve generations to come. Planting an orchard is an act of hope: it requires vision and imagination. As Robert Frost noted, there is safety and peril in hope.