November 17, 2020—by Bill Zager, Z-Orchard
I have lived on, and enjoyed, farms and farming my entire life. I was born and raised on a dairy farm, though we also had hogs, sheep, and chickens and raised some cash crops. As an adult, and throughout my professional career, I have lived on hobby farms. For the past 25 years, I’ve lived just a few miles outside of Amery where, in 2009, I established Z-Orchard.
I decided to launch Z-Orchard as retirement approached. I started small, tapping 15 maple trees. In 2009, I built a sturdy fence and planted 48 apple trees. Two years later, I started my apiary when a friend gave me a beehive. By now, Z-Orchard has expanded significantly. I tap over 1,000 trees for maple sap, and a friend and I designed and built an evaporator big enough to make about 2.5 gallons of maple syrup per hour. The orchard has expanded to 135 trees of nine varieties and I also lease a second organic orchard. The apiary has also grown and now holds 18 hives. In addition, the Z-Orchard store and processing area are now a state-licensed facility.
One of the most interesting ventures at Z-Orchard is the educational opportunities we offer. I start by telling my students, no matter their age, “You are what you eat, and the honey is what the bees eat, and the fruit is made up of what is in the soil and air and water.” Amery’s fourth graders recently started trekking out to the orchard twice a year. In the spring we focus on maple syrup production and bees and beehives; in the fall we discuss apples and honey harvesting. I also host classes for home-schooled students and any and all interested individuals.
I’ve appreciated the opportunity to collaborate on some educational programming with Farm Table Foundation. Partnering with them has been very rewarding as the education reaches a much larger audience. Farm Table’s restaurant uses local farm products, and their “little local market” features many local products (including my own maple syrup!) as well, all displayed in a very appealing presentation. Farm Table is a great addition to our community.
Z-Orchard is not a certified organic farm, but it is chemical-free. I use organic fertilizer and traps and lures for most of the insect control in the orchard. This year we took 167 cords of popple trees out of the sugar bush. These trees were mature and crowding the maples. By cutting the popple and pulling out the buckthorn and other invasive species, the maples, oaks, and birch will flourish; I plan to restore native plants in the understory.
My longer-term plans include creating nature trails and interpretive signs through the sugar bush so that customers can take nature walks and learn about the undeniable beauty of this area.
I get a great deal of satisfaction working this land and caring for the apple trees, the bees, and the maples out in the sugar bush. Located just outside of Amery, you are more than welcome to visit Z-Orchard. Learn more at my website.