On the last weekend in October, families flocked to Green Bluff to navigate a corn maze, ride ponies and pick apples and pumpkins before the end of Apple Festival at Walters’ Fruit Ranch.
The fruit ranch is owned by Morghan and Jason Morrell, who bought it from Jason’s parents about five years ago. Before that, it was owned by the Walters family. The Morrells and their four children have a home in the cherry orchard and work year-round on the U-pick field that transforms with the seasons.
The ranch kicks off the annual crop rotation with summertime strawberry picking and a Father’s Day celebration. Then come cherries in July and peaches in August.
“Sometime in July, depending on the weather, all the way through Labor Day, it’s peaches, peaches and more peaches,” Morghan Morrell said.
The Apple Festival runs six weekends from mid-September through October and coincides with other fall celebrations throughout Green Bluff.
Susan Rae, who owns Storybook Farm Ponies, has offered pony rides at Walters’ for 14 years, and some of her ponies have given rides at the farm for more than two decades.
The former owner, Moe Gunderson, asked Rae to take care of her ponies when she was diagnosed with cancer. Rae and her husband, Rick, took 21 of Gunderson’s ponies and helped find homes for the other 15.
Rae recalled Gunderson telling her, “I’ve got to find somebody who wants my ponies, and you and Rick are the only people that I would trust.”
Rae has brought ponies to Walters’ every year since then. She said she remembers Gunderson fondly during the festival.
“We’ve had horses all our lives,” Rae said. Taking the ponies just felt like a natural thing to do, she added.
After Rae’s husband died a few years ago, she started taking the animals to more birthday parties and events. She also hired Liz Clift to work events with her. The two women have known each other since elementary school and bonded over their love of horses.
“I rode horses before I walked,” Clift said, adding that she loves watching young girls’ excitement when they ride horses for the first time.
“All little girls love ponies,” she said.
On Sunday, Snickers, Cinderella and Banner gave rides to young children. Some smiled and waved at their parents, while others were a bit more shy.
Rae, dressed in a red-and-silver tinsel wig and black-and-red costume, led the ponies around the pen, encouraging them to pose for photos, wave to their parents and shout “Yee-haw!”
“I just love the connection between the animals and the humans,” Rae said.
Rae, who started hiring teenage girls who help with the pony rides, said it’s a learning experience.
“They learn to talk to people and the little kids,” she said.
Morrell also hires high school students for seasonal work on the farm. They do everything from picking apples to dipping them in caramel.
High school senior Jonah Foo manned the wooden maze on Sunday. He said he loves working outdoors, free from the constrictions that his friends who work at fast-food restaurants complain about.
“It’s a lot different from a corporate job,” Foo said. “It’s still nice to get out into the open fields and do some hard labor.”
This is Foo’s second season working at Walters’. This year he recruited some of his friends to come work with him, and while it has been colder than last year, he said he’s still having a great time.
Morrell remembers her first job and has worked almost every job at Walters’, she said.
“I feel like I forget that I had a first job, too,” Morrell said. “We like training them, and just kind of, like, teaching them how to be an adult.”
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