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Christophers consolidated ag expertise, diversified orchard

Sue and Mark Christopher have operated Maple Leaf Orchard in the Town of Gilman for 21 years, after planting their first apple trees there in 1987. The Christophers are honorary citizens for this weekend’s El Paso Days celebration, which will salute the area’s apple orchards. (Herald photo by Bill Kirk)

SPRING VALLEY—Mark and Sue Christopher originally were looking for land where grapes could be grown, not necessarily apples, and perhaps that’s a good thing.

Because while the owners of Maple Leaf Orchard in the Town of Gilman ultimately had better luck growing the latter instead of the former, they came to realize it would be advantageous to offer more than one fruit. Combined with circumstances forcing them to rely on the orchard beyond what they thought they would, diversifying their growing proposition has translated into its success.

“We’ve always liked working outside,” Portage native Mark Christopher said Friday about him and his wife, who met as students in the agriculture school at UW-River Falls. They’ve now been named honorary citizens for the El Paso Days celebration this weekend.

He was an agronomy major in college, employed by Jacques Seed, he said. She emphasized horticulture and both were in plant science. They graduated a year apart—he in 1982 and she in 1983—getting married that second year.

Renting from the Knutsons in Beldenville, they had looked for farm property for up to three years, he said. His spouse was serving as an intern for a winery in Sauk Prairie, so their focus turned to vineyards.

“One of the nurseries where we were getting grape plants asked us if we were interested in apple trees,” he said, indicating the nursery had some crooked trees they’d previously rid themselves of through burning and were willing to deal on these.

The couple took a few, soon deciding apples were the way to go, Christopher said.

Initially, they envisioned a 10-acre orchard, which was going to be the extent of it, apples and all else, he said. But he was laid off by the seed company the same year he graduated, putting more demand on their acreage for their livelihood.

For more please read the August 13 print version of the Herald. 

Bill Kirk

Bill Kirk was editor of the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth, from 1988 to February, 2015 and is now on staff as a reporter. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He previously worked in the media distribution department at the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus and is past editor of The Tri-County News in Osseo, Wisconsin.

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