ROLLING PRAIRIE, Ind. — The roar of tractor engines, the light laughter of happy children, and the ever-so-satisfying crunch of a bite into a fresh apple carried across the warm breeze at one of La Porte County’s most venerable farmlands Saturday morning, Aug. 31.

With summer winding down, Rolling Prairie’s Williams Orchard officially opened its barn doors for the season. From now through Halloween, visitors can stop by the historic farm at 9456N CR-500E and pick fruit from hundreds of apple trees that dot the property’s sprawling hills.

New owners Jon and Robyn Drummond opened the picking season with a bang on Saturday, hosting a grand opening celebration that drew a large crowd to the property. Guests enjoyed cider, doughnuts, tractor rides and, of course, the chance to taste some the orchard’s sweet autumn bounty.

The Chesterton couple was delighted to see the positive response to the reopening, Jon said. The 135-acre property — which dates back to the 1860s — did not open last season, as previous owner Ken Williams died in February 2018.

“This is such a special, unique place,” Drummond said. “We want to continue its presence in the community and support it however we can.”

The Drummonds first encountered the property after seeing it listed online – the Williams family put it up for sale following Ken’s death.

Jon — who had dreamed of owning a farm since childhood — and Robyn quickly fell in love with the rolling hills and verdant scenery upon visiting the property. The farm reminded them of the apple fields they grew up picking at in their hometown of Holland, Michigan, Jon said.

The couple’s interest grew after meeting the Williams family, which had farmed the land for generations. Ken — known as “Apple Ken” to many — was a beloved fixture of the Rolling Prairie community, always willing to lend a hand to neighbors, Jon said.

Wanting to preserve the beauty and legacy of Williams Orchard, the Drummonds decided to purchase the land. Though the families finalized the sale only several months ago, the new owners have been farming the property since February.

Though he has loved the outdoors for as long as he can remember, Jon is a newcomer to the world of agriculture, he admitted. The insurance agent has spent the past several months reading textbooks and picking the brains of veteran apple growers in the region while, all while raising this year’s crop, he said.

“There’s been a lot of learning through trial and error,” he joked.

Thankfully, the guests at the grand opening had nothing but kind words for the new owners, Jon said

Customers will be able to pick from eight varieties of apples at the orchard this fall, he said. The selection runs the gamut, from traditional Red Delicious and McIntosh to the popular Honeycrisp and Gala apples.

While the orchard offers the traditional U-PICK experience, customers who prefer more straightforward shopping can purchase apples from a selection of pre-picked fruit, Jon said. The farm also plans to sell pumpkins and mums this fall.

The owners have lined up some family fun at the orchard on weekends as well. Visitors can tour the property on a hayride, while children can check out the petting zoo and bounce house.

The Drummonds have some significant improvements planned as well, including planting fields of lavender, building a U-cut flower business, and constructing a new event venue next year.

What they don’t plan to change is the friendly, hometown environment visitors to Williams Orchard have come to expect over the past century, Jon said.

“This is meant to be a wholesome, family experience,” he said. “We’re still a classic, old-school orchard.”

Williams Orchard is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends (all times Central). For more information, call (219) 440-1515 or visit williamsorchard.com.

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