Family-Run Blake’s Orchard & Cider Mill Thriving After 75 Years, Despite Challenges

In this episode of the Essential Cooking podcast, Andrew Blake from Blake’s Orchard & Cider Mill joins Ann Delisi and Chef James Rigato to talk about adapting to changing times and weather for the family business.

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Blake’s Orchard & Cider Mill has been an entertainment destination for decades. In recent years, they have managed to not only survive, but also thrive, by adding new products like hard cider and subscription boxes.

The family business based in Armada, Michigan, has been in operation for three generations, spanning 75 years.

While generational knowledge has brought long-standing success to the Blake family farm, getting the best yield from a year’s crops requires ingenuity.

This spring has proven especially difficult for late frosts, and the farm uses several methods that help mitigate those losses like turbines that distribute warm air to lower plants, or spraying plants with water to form a protective ice coating.

“When I was growing up, we could grow very good peaches, and pears, and stone fruits.” –Andrew Blake

Frosts are always a part of spring for Michigan farmers, but according to Blake, the weather is definitely changing.

“When I was growing up, we could grow very good peaches, and pears, and stone fruits,” Blake says.

With recent weather fluctuations, a good crop of those same fruits might come once every five years.

Whether the weather is good or bad in a particular year, an apple crop is still only good for a couple of weeks after harvest. That is, unless, you ferment it.

That’s where Blake’s Hard Cider comes in.

Year after year, the family produced a lot of surplus apples, and wanted to extend the life of the crop beyond the harvest season.

In 2013, they began producing Blake’s Hard Cider, which is now widely available across Michigan.

While the hard cider part of the business was still operating during the pandemic, a large part of the family business, entertainment and in-person visitors, was on hold.

Blake estimates that Blake’s Orchard & Cider Mill welcomed up to 1.8 million visitors per year across three locations in pre-COVID-19 times.

Blake’s Orchard & Cider Mill is now preparing to host visitors again this summer, as pandemic restrictions across the state begin to ease up.

In this episode:

  • Protecting orchards from frost this spring
  • Weather changes affecting fruit crops like peaches and stone fruits
  • Establishing hard cider as a new product for the family business
  • Starting a subscription service for the orchard during the pandemic
  • Preparing for a return to normal operations this summer

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  • David Leins
    David Leins is a Podcast Coordinator and Producer at WDET. He also oversees the StoryMakers program. When he isn't making radio and podcasts, David is probably on a hike somewhere marveling at the trees.