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Orchards in Michigan selling more than apples after bad crop

Apple orchards don't just sell apples anymore.

Michiganders  heading to their local cider mills and apple orchards this fall might be surprised by what they find. According toan article by the Detroit Free Press, unprecedented damage to Michigan's apple crop has forced local operations into finding new ways to turn a profit.

Writer Peggy Walsh-Sarnecki reports on the extraordinary steps orchards are taking to offset losses:

"We're a little bit like riverboat gamblers this year," said Pete Blake of Blake's Orchard and Cider Mill in Armada. They have six attractions this year, instead of the usual one, including more children's activities and a haunted paintball safari.

According to Walsh-Sarnecki, Michigan's apple crop produced just 2 million bushels this year. That's down from the 26 million produced last year.

In order to keep up with customer demand, orchards and ciders mills must pay two to three times normal apple prices. That means higher prices for consumers along with more hay rides, more haunted houses, and, yes, more "haunted paintball safaris."

A few years back, Michigan Radio's  Lester Graham reported on the difference he saw between the circus-like atmosphere of orchards these days and the simpler times of his youth.

The barn smelled of apples, of course, but not just the fresh ones. There was also the sweet-sour smell of apples fermenting on the dirt floor, rejects that didn't make it to the bushel baskets for sale. Bees were always hovering over the bruised and brown skin of the slightly rotting fruit. Today, a trip to the apple orchard is much like a trip to a carnival. A little train circles the orchard, kids crawl through a rainbow-colored inflatable worm, there's a corral of little tractors that the kids pedal in circles, draft horses draw wagons through the fruit trees, and, oh, yeah, the orchard sells apples.

Whether for the apples or for the activities, orchard owners are just hoping the customers show.

- Jordan Wyant, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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