The Apple of Mondamin's Eye
Mondamin, Iowa isn't exactly known for its size. Located on the edge of western Iowa, the town spans approximately a half square mile and has a total population of less than 500. However, three miles outside of town, a rather large orchard overlooking the Missouri River valley has been providing big treats, big tastes and big smiles for more than 125 years.
The orchard, named Small's Fruit Farm, is owned by fruit and vegetable grower Jim Small. With the help of his wife Renee and son Trevor, the family operates the 33-acre orchard that has been passed down through five generations.
“In the late 1800s, my grandfather visited the Mondamin area and bought some apples from a local grower,” said Jim. “He liked them (the apples) so much, he came back the next year, bought the farmer’s land and started his first orchard. I worked side by side with my father when he took over, learning every day how to provide our customers with the same quality those before me have given throughout the years.”
Jim, not liking to toot his own horn, believes the soil on his farm is what gives his apples their unique flavors, but is quick to add that their orchard offers more than apples. "Our season starts with strawberries in June and ends with apples in the fall. But we also have raspberries, cherries and a variety of other fruits in between," Jim said. "Plus, we have green beans, peppers, sweet corn, tomatoes and several other produce varieties."
Twenty-five years ago, the Smalls built a pie parlor. Today, the family estimates they bake around 2,500 pies a year. “We sell apple and cherry pies year-round that are made with our own fresh fruit,” said Renee. “As they come in season, we sell others like peach and apricot, then pumpkin and pecan during the holidays. Visitors can also grab deli and ice cream sandwiches at the parlor, and sample our own fresh-squeezed apple, cherry and raspberry cider.”
If it sounds like a lot of work to keep the operation going, it is. Trevor, who is next in line to take over, jokingly advises that people should “never work for their parents,” adding that there is always something to be done on the farm.
But as soon as the laughter ends, he says he wouldn't trade what he does for anything else. "Although I still have a lot to learn and knowledge to gain from my dad, it is a big deal for me to keep the tradition and high expectations here going," Trevor said. "I am proud of what we do and all the blood, sweat and even tears are worth it the moment I see the look on a visitor's face."
Undoubtedly, the family’s favorite time of year is also their busiest. “Fall is such a special time at our farm,” said Renee. “Something about the change in color, the foliage and crisp Iowa weather brings out the best in everyone and out to our farm. While they are here, we try our best to make their experiences fun and memorable.”
Starting Labor Day weekend, bus tours are available for guests. Once on the farm, they can roam 10 acres and pick 20 types of apples. Then in October, the Smalls host their annual fall festival. The event attracts thousands of visitors to Mondamin and includes activities from pie eating contests, pony and hay rides and live music to bounce houses, face painting, a pumpkin patch and a variety of delicious food.
For more than a decade, this event has become an enjoyable fall day for kids and adults alike. It is also a way for the Smalls to thank their customers.
“We really love what we do and couldn’t do it without our customers,” said Renee. “The fall festival is basically our way of saying thank you, almost like a customer appreciation day. As much as this farm is generational, so are our customers. Something about this beautiful place has kept our customers loyal and coming back.”