The winding gravel road that branches off from L Avenue in Adel and leads to the entrance of the Wills Family Orchard is a fitting prelude to the rustic beauty of the orchard’s sweeping grounds.
On any given weekend at the orchard during the fall, you’ll see little children pulling on their parents’ hands as they march toward the pumpkin patch or older kids racing each other to the entrance of the corn maze. Inside the orchard’s shop, customers examine plastic bags of organic apples and compare jars of organic fruit spreads. During Apple and Pumpkin Fest weekends, you can hitch a ride on the hay wagon and munch on a fresh apple cider doughnut while gazing out over the stooped forms of people hunting for the perfect pumpkin. These are the kinds of experiences that add up to what owner Maury Wills calls a “celebration” of family, friendship, and the outdoors.
Those wanting to participate in such a celebration need look no further than this family-owned orchard, which is located just 22 minutes southwest of Waukee and is open on Saturdays from 9:00am to 6:00pm and Sundays from 12:00pm to 6:00pm during the fall months. The orchard includes a small barn with goats and chickens, a pumpkin patch, and a corn maze. Due to hailstorms causing damage to the apple crop earlier this year, the Wills family decided against opening up the orchard for apple picking. However, within the orchard shop, customers still have the opportunity to choose from several different varieties of unharmed Wills Family Orchard apples.
Visitors to the orchard don’t have to look very hard to see that the Wills family is passionate about their work. Long before the Wills family entered the “agri-tourism” business, the orchard was simply a way for Wills and his wife Mary to live out their dream of raising their kids in the country while tending to things that grow. From the beginning, the Wills family has been committed to good and wholesome food. As Wills says: “I didn’t know how to grow apple trees or produce apples but I just thought, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it organically because I’m just sort of inclined that way, you know?” They planted their first trees in 1992, and the business grew along with the family. In the early days, they set up a little store to sell their produce in the breezeway between the house and the garage.
Wills points out that the pumpkin patch was “kind of accidental,” and came about when a few ladies noticed that the Wills family was growing pumpkins and asked if they could pick some. Wills recalls that they put up a simple cardboard sign to mark the pumpkin patch and that, at the time, they were surprised when eight people came to pick pumpkins in one weekend.
Today, there are often so many visitors wanting to purchase food during the Apple and Pumpkin Fest weekends that the Wills have had to set up a second table outside the orchard’s shop to accommodate all the orders. These festival weekends, which occur on the last weekend in September and the first two weekends in October (including this coming weekend!), give visitors a chance to enjoy expanded activities and eat delicious foods. A full list of Apple and Pumpkin Fest activities may be found on the Wills Family Orchard website.
At the heart of the Wills Family Orchard’s commitment to their visitors is a sense of generosity—they genuinely want to share the goodness of a fall day in the country. As Wills puts it, “[The orchard] just gives people a place to stand and look at the beautiful surroundings. When you stand on this hill and look out toward the Raccoon Valley, it’s gorgeous . . . A lot of people don’t get that kind of place to do that on a regular basis, so we want people to see and experience what we do on a regular basis.”