By Laura Latzko
Visits to Apple Annie’s in Willcox have been longstanding fall traditions for families around the state. For the extended Holcomb family, farming has become a tradition as well.
Annie and John Holcomb moved to Willcox and bought 20 acres of land in 1977. Without a background in farming, the couple planted thousands of apple trees in the early 1980s, thanks to the financial backing of John’s father.
“It was new to everyone, but apples were a big thing at the time in Willcox, and we had the land where we could clear and plant,” Annie says.
“We thought we would grow them as a commercial crop, and we would just have pickers come and pick the fruit. That didn’t work out. They were not a crop where we could make money doing it that way. A relative suggested we let the public come in and pick them. We decided to give that a try, and that’s all we’ve ever done.”
These days, the family-owned operation consists of a fruit orchard on Hardy Road, produce fields and a pumpkin patch on Williams Road, and a country store on Circle Road.
From the start, the couple’s children, Matt Holcomb and Mandy Kirkendall, were involved in the business, and their children’s spouses and grandchildren now help on the farm.
“Each of them has little jobs. As they get older, they will take on more responsibility, but they love coming out,” Annie says.
Holcomb manages the produce operation now, and Kirkendall handles publicity for the farm and runs the country store.
During the summer and fall, visitors travel from Tucson, Sierra Vista, Willcox and Phoenix to visit Apple Annie’s. Local schools bring children to the farm on fall field trips.
“The kids get to come down and learn about how we grow their fruits,” Annie says. “They get excited to bring mom and dad back. It’s a fun way for kids to see how food is grown.”
One student visited the orchard with her family shortly before going off to college. She wanted to take hayrides into the orchards and play in bins of corn.
“That was a fond memory for her that she wanted to relive before she left home,” Annie says.
During their visits, guests can choose from different varieties of fruits and vegetables and either pick their own produce or purchase already-picked bundles. In the fall, Apple Annie’s offers different sizes and types of pumpkins, including white and warty pumpkins. It also has 14 to 15 varieties of apples, 22 varieties of peaches and seven to eight varieties of Asian pears. Most guests enjoy picking fruit and vegetables.
“We want a farm experience to be on a farm, seeing the crops growing, being able to experience going out into the field. They can eat an apple right off from the tree or a tomato right off from the vine,” Annie says.
The country store and bakery sell items such as jellies, butters, seasonal apple cider doughnuts, oils, fudge, syrups, salad dressing, salsas, honey, jams, seasonal pies and ice cream, and apple bread and butter.
On weekdays, the country store serves sandwiches, soups and wraps for lunch. The orchard grill prepares unlimited pumpkin or buttermilk pancakes for breakfast and burgers and hot dogs for lunch on the weekends.
On September 15, Apple Annie’s opens its 12.5-acre corn maze featuring a 600,000-stalk tribute to John Deere’s centennial with an old-time tractor carved into the field. The family has created mazes every year since 2008, observing, among other things, the 50th anniversary of space travel, the 75th anniversary of the March of Dimes, Arizona’s first baby elephant, state landmarks, and the farm’s centennial in 2012.
“Some people like to challenge each other, race through it and see who can win, and others like to take their time and take lots of pictures,” Annie says.
The annual Fall Pumpkin Celebration will run every weekend from September 22 to October 28. The corn maze is open daily through October 31.
Apple Annie’s fruit orchards are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through September 30, and 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily through October 31. They are located at 2081 W. Hardy Road. More information is available by calling 384-2084.
The produce fields and corn maze are located at 6405 W. Williams Road. They are open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. through September 30, and 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. through October 31. Call 384-4685 for more information.
The country store is located at 1510 N. Circle Road and is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 766-2084.
Admission to Apple Annie’s Orchard locations is free.
The corn maze costs $8 to $10 for guests 12 and older, and $6 to $8 for children 3 to 11, depending on whether guests choose the hayride and maze combo. Children 2 and younger are admitted free.
The cost of you-pick and already-picked fruits and vegetables varies, but it generally falls between the $1.19 and $3.09 per pound price range. Pumpkins are $3 to $25 each.
To find out more, go to appleannies.com.