LINCOLN -- Lincoln special education teacher Ryan Acord had plans to take this year off from teaching and travel the world with his wife and children.
Instead, in a complete turnaround of plans, the couple purchased land southwest of Lincoln on Little Road, including an old apple orchard, and the two want to restore the orchard and one day possibly make it into a place for families to come and enjoy the outdoors.
The land was once an apple orchard owned by James Leach. The orchard has not been tended for years, and Ryan and his wife, Jordan Stidham, a medical assistant in Siloam Springs, have spent countless hours pruning and mowing the orchard since purchasing the land about a year ago. And this is on top of both having full-time jobs, both going to school full-time and taking care of three boys, one only a few months old.
"It's been a good learning experience but we're busy. We don't ever stop," Acord says.
They've named their farm Starr Hill Orchard because the land is located in the Starr Hill Township. In all, they have about 16 acres and about 400 apple trees. They plan to plant 500 more trees in the next couple years.
The couple had planned to travel on profit Acord made from selling his house in Siloam Springs. Until they started their journey, though, they needed a place to rent.
A realt estate agent showed them 5 acres with a pond and they decided to buy it and build a house. Acord said he saw the orchard next door and asked the realtor what he planned to do with it. The realtor said he planned to sell the land and he guessed someone would probably build a house on it.
"We purchased it to save it," Acord said. "Once we bought it we wanted to restore it and make it grow again."
Acord figures it is the last apple orchard in the Lincoln area and he wants to restore it and bring it back for the community.
The two did not know anything about caring for an apple orchard. Their neighbors have generously loaned them equipment and tools. Berni Kurz, Washington County extension agent, has provided information to them and been out to the farm two or three times to help them with their orchard.
"He's been our go-to guy," Acord said.
Kurz said the orchard was "pretty rough" when he saw it for the first time last year. It had what he called "weed trees" and poison ivy growing everywhere, even up to the top of the trees.
"But that's part of what comes up when you abandon an orchard," Kurz said. "It's very hard to bring back an old orchard that has been let go. It's hard to bring back old mature wood into productive wood."
Kurz said, though, he's been impressed with Acord's efforts to turnaround the orchard and to invest a lot of sweat and tears into the land.
"I just love that spot," Kurz said. "It's an ideal place for an orchard."
He said, though, it will not be a quick fix to bring the orchard back into a productive state but with hard work it can happen.
"I like seeing the energy he has, particularly for Lincoln," Kurz said. "He should do well because he can ask a premium price for his apples because they are grown in Lincoln."
Acord said he and his wife have discovered their orchard has many different types of apples but did not know what all they had until the trees produced fruit this fall. Some of the apple varieties include Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Arkansas Black, Red Delicious and Jonathan apples. They're not sure of what some of the apples are.
"We're researched and looked at pictures to figure out what they are," Acord said.
Jordan's favorite variety is Granny Smith. Acord likes Golden Delicious apples.
Along with producing apples, Acord said they have other plans. For one, they've discovered there is an interest in buying wood from an apple tree. They removed many dead trees and and have sold the wood for different reasons.
One person in Missouri wanted the apple wood to make treats for chinchillas. Another planned to use the wood to make a box for an engagement ring. The wood also is used as chips in barbecue grills.
They plan to make jams, jellies and apple honey and will genetically grow their own trees, instead of purchasing trees commercially.
One idea is to sell apple trees at the 2019 Arkansas Apple Festival to encourage people in Lincoln to start planting apple trees.
"That keeps it going," Acord said. "The trees in their yards will come from this orchard that's been here for a long time."
He's not sure how old the orchard is but believes it is more than 25 years old.
Acord also has received inquiries from the library, school groups, Boy Scouts and church groups that are interested in coming out to see the orchard.
Their ultimate goal, Jordan said, is to have a U-pick farm with other family activities such as a petting zoo.
"This would be a place for families to come," Jordan said. "It brought us out here and we think it can bring others out here as well."General News on 10/03/2018
Print Headline: Around The World Plans Thwarted By An Old Apple Orchard