When you look at Kristi Schulz’s background, you’ll see she’s listed as a “former science teacher,” but it doesn’t take long to realize Kristi is both educating and utilizing science every day in her role as an owner of Countryside Orchard.
If you’re unfamiliar with Countryside Orchard, you may know it by another name: Engelbrecht’s. Many of the fruit trees on the property were planted by the fourth generation of the Engelbrecht family before they sold the orchard to Kristi’s family. She and Tim, her husband and business partner, operate and manage all facets of the orchard business.
Like teaching, the key to successful farming has a lot to do with making connections: connections with others, with the land, with the community, and more. Kristi is passionate about her work, so sharing it comes naturally; and like any good science teacher, Kristi is a big believer in letting people be guided by firsthand experience with the orchard and the products.
“We’re always happy to show people around and answer questions,” offers Kristi. In our modern world, people are not always as connected to the source of our food, so the Schulzes are committed to offering U-pick opportunities for as many of their crops as possible. There is some magic in watching individuals enjoy their first taste of fruit they’ve picked themselves. “When you take a bite, you have ownership of the flavor and of the effort involved.”
“It’s really important that people understand that everything we do is hands-on and labor intensive. We don’t have machines to pick or sort the fruit. That is all done by hand.” Many customers are surprised at the difference in locally-grown produce compared to what they typically find at the grocery store. Kristi explains that grocery store produce is often picked before it is ripe or kept in cold storage for months at a time so that it doesn’t bruise or spoil before reaching the shelves. Conversely, the memorable, in-season flavors develop while the fruit is ripening on the tree. “We treat them gently and give personal attention to every single tree.”
All this attention requires many hands, and Kristi likes to offer high school students first-time work experience helping at the orchard. Harvesting is a job everyone associates with farm work, but Countryside Orchard also produces larger, healthier fruit by managing the cropload (thinning), so the fruit that remains can soak up more resources. Gleaning is also important; fruit has to be picked before it has a chance to rot, or fungus and disease could put the next year’s crop at risk.
“It’s nice to have plenty and be able to share,” says Kristi. Harvest totals vary from year to year, depending on weather and pest pressures, but the 2021 peach and apple crop was plentiful. In addition to selling to local markets, they’ve been able to donate hundreds of pounds of fruit to the Tri-State Food Bank, Feed Evansville, and a group cooking for tornado victims in Kentucky in late 2021.
Last year, Tom Zeta, the Nourish coordinator for Urban Seeds, made a visit to Countryside Orchard, and a new connection was made. Countryside Orchard is now providing apples for the Nourish boxes, and Urban Seeds hopes it’s the first of many local offerings to be added to the Nourish program.
In addition to offering produce, education is still front and center. “The orchard is like a big outdoor classroom,” so the field trips offered at Countryside Orchard include stations with many elements: information, discussion points, activities, immersive experiences, math, orienteering, and – of course – tasting.
Peaches are the main crop at Countryside Orchard, followed by apples, but they also offer U-pick strawberries and pumpkins when they’re in season, in addition to cider – and the popular cider slushes – applesauce, and creative flavors of jellies and jams. Depending on the weather, they hope to have a crop of cherries this spring, as well. Kristi is proud to have educated the public on “seconds” – fruit that has cosmetic blemishes or is too ripe to travel but is still delicious for immediate eating or bulk preparation – and now sells seconds by the case.
So how does one compare apples to apples? Apples from the grocery store are available year-round, with uniform appearance, but there is a trade-off. Types of fruit from Countryside Orchard change with the seasons; but the attention they have received, their ability to ripen on the trees, and their proximity to home leads to more flavor and nutrients for the consumer, and money invested will stay in the local economy. And if you’re lucky enough to make a trip to the orchard or their booth at a farmer’s market, you’ll have an irreplaceable connection with your food and its journey to your plate.
For more info:
- Website: www.countrysideorchard.com
- Phone: (812) 490-9559
- Location: 16800 Old Petersburg Rd, Evansville, IN 47725
- located north of Baseline Road, just off of I69, Exit 18