Before the morning dew gets a chance to dry, Dick Sochacki has his fruit and vegetable stand stocked and ready to go.
His farm is home to Apple of His Eye Orchard, a mom-and-pop business owned and operated by Dick and his wife, Jude.
“Why apples? Well, there are always good stories with apples,” Dick said. “You don’t hear about bananas or my mom made the best OJ, but you do remember apples.”
The Detroit transplants have made an old farmhouse east of Anderson home for almost 30 years.
Jude jokingly blames the addition of an apple orchard on her husband.
The idea actually came while pastoring at a church in northern Indiana. Dick and Jude met a family that supplemented their income with a 3-acre orchard.
“We really liked it and thought we could do that,” Jude said. “We probably should have started when we were a little younger though.”
Apple of His Eye Orchard is located at 3185 S. 300E, Anderson. The phone is 378-6265.
Of course, starting an apple orchard goes beyond digging holes and planting trees.
“The couple introduced us to a Purdue horticulture professor and horticulture congress,” Dick said. “They got us connected with these people.”
Through the Purdue University Extension Office, Dick and Jude received the guidance and plans needed to grow a successful orchard.
“They had a basic idea of what they were wanting to do,” Peter Hirst said. “They came to me to help.”
Hirst, an associate professor of horticulture at Purdue, answered all the Sochackis’ questions.
“Planning is important,” Hirst said. “It’s an investment. It’s expensive to plant even 1 acre of orchard. It can cost $2,000 to $3,000 an acre not including the labor.”
Dick and Jude attended workshops on beginning apple production, planning, root stalk varieties and more.
Planting the right root stalks and varieties would allow for some picking three years after planting and full production in six.
“Modern varieties and hybrids help reduce the seven- to 10-year wait on production,” Hirst said. “Apples also open the door to other opportunities like petting zoos and products in addition to fresh fruits and crops.”
Dick said the key to Apple of His Eye’s success was in a simple business plan.
“Start small and grow. Keep it simple,” he said. “We don’t want to be a huge agri-tourism place. We’re interested in it but don’t want to do too much too quickly.”
In 2004, the Sochackis started the orchard, and the following year, planting began.
“We hand-planted the first 86 trees, and I remember laying on the ground thinking ‘Lord take me now,’ ” Jude said. “But He gives us the strength to keep going.”
Ups and Downs
Without their faith in God, Dick said he and Jude would have given up years ago.
During a freeze, Dick said he went to Michigan and bought fresh-picked fruit to sell from his orchard. It was a record business year.
“Miracles are happening,” he said.
This spring was especially a challenge.
“It was a bad spring. We dug all the holes then it rained for three weeks,” Jude said. “We had to hand bail all the water out of all the holes.”
The wet spring quickly turned into a dry summer, bringing about an entirely new obstacle — no rain for 40 days.
“Jude and I would take a pickup truck and fill trash cans and water the trees bucket by bucket,” Dick said. “Members of a Hispanic church showed up with a truck and more trash cans to help. These people have been amazing. We didn’t even ask them. They just showed up.”
Dick shared the story with a customer who happened to be a local farmer. He asked the man if he knew where to get a water truck.
“He said he was about to dump his truck that it still had water in it,” Dick said. “He brought his tanker and said he would fill it again and he did — 7,000 gallons. People in Madison County can be pretty cool.”
For Jude, the orchard is a different type of ministry filled with stories and shared memories.
“I’ve heard stories about the people that lived in the house before we did,” she said. “An older couple came and told me they used to live here. The man used to ride his bike up and down the road when it was gravel. He remembers his last night in the house. It was the night he took his wife to her parents’ home so he could go off to the war.”
A dedicated husband and wife duo and an outpouring of community love and support keep Apple of His Eye triumphant year after year.
Variety of Tastes
Today, the Sochackis have a 3½-acre orchard and sell 23 varieties of apples.
Though not currently grown at the orchard, Dick and Jude offer fresh peaches and locally grown green beans, tomatoes and corn.
“I get quality products from other people to see how they sell and what people want and like,” Dick said. “People will get used to coming here and in a year or two, I’ll grow my own.”
The same idea applies to testing different varieties of apples on customers. Dick said there were more than 7,500 different kinds.
“People don’t just buy apples. They buy a Granny Smith for the tartness and a Gala for the sweetness,” Hirst said of the multiple varieties of apples. “People buy varieties by name. They don’t ask about varieties of bananas or strawberries. They (the Sochackis) have the opportunity to grow something new and unique.”
In addition to offering fresh-picked fruits and vegetables, the Sochackis have worked with chefs at Pillsbury to develop doughnuts with what Dick calls a signature taste.
“You’re not going to get it anywhere else,” he said. “Sometimes I have to remind people this is an apple orchard not a donut orchard.”
Another popular apple byproduct is fresh, unpasteurized cider.
“We can’t keep it in stock. People want that fresh taste,” Dick said. “It’s one of those products you don’t need to market.”
The Sochackis’ goal is to handpick 1,000 bushels. They currently have about 700 but should easily reach the goal after planting 300 trees this spring.
However, no matter what additions are made, Dick said apples will always be the priority.
This story was featured in the fall issue of Madison magazine, available now at The Herald Bulletin, 1133 Jackson St., Anderson.