ROLLING PRAIRIE, Ind. — The owner of Williams Orchard, a popular apple farm in northeast La Porte County, is assuring customers that the business will be open as usual after apple thieves took U-pick to a whole new level last week.

Jon Drummond, who bought the orchard from the Williams family and celebrated a grand reopening this past summer, said on Facebook that thieves stole up to 50,000 apples, valued at about $27,000. La Porte County Sheriff's deputies were notified of the theft at the orchards, located at 9456 N. CR-500E in Rolling Prairie, on Sunday, Sept. 22, when an employee of the farm discovered the thefts.

According to a sheriff's department report, Drummond told police the theft happened sometime between Wednesday, Sept. 18, and Sunday, when a suspect or suspects picked tens of thousands of apples from trees in the back of the 132-acre property.

John Hooper, groundskeeper for the orchard, said he had checked that area on Tuesday, Sept. 17, and did not observe any strange activity on the property. But Sunday, according to the report, Hooper went to the northwest corner of the property and found "several trees had been picked clean, from top to bottom."

Drummond said he was unsure who came onto his property, but said "approximately 32 trees" of Honeycrisp apples. He estimated the loss at about $6,000 wholesale or $27,000 retail, the report said.

The farm is closed Monday through Wednesday, with only a neighbor on the property to feed the animals, Drummond told police. But he said a friend drove past last Wednesday and saw a red Ford F-250 pickup on the property, but did not think anything of it, the report said.

He also mentioned that about two weeks ago, a man driving a similar vehicle, was on the property selling several bushels of hay, but mentioned he had a side business making apple cider, the report said. Drummond told police he found it odd that the man questioned if anyone lived in the house on the property and what time the orchard opened.

The sheriff's department is investigating the thefts.

In his Facebook post, Drummond said a semi-dwarf apple tree holds upwards of 10 bushels of apples, and a bushel weighs about 40 pounds – an average apple is 1/3 to 1/2 a pound.

However, he said there are about 1,200 trees on the farm. "That's a lot of apples that weren't stolen, so come on out and enjoy the orchard with us," he said. He thanked the community for its "overwhelming support" since he purchased the farm, and said he and his wife, Robyn, who are Chesterton residents, "have been incredibly touched by the stories you've shared and we're delighted to help bring back Williams Orchard.

"We look forward to seeing everyone throughout this fall and fear not, while I am in insurance, specifically casualty insurance, we didn't buy harvest or property insurance on the crop, so there is no claim. I believe there is an age old joke out there about the shoe cobbler's son and well, it's nice to know I'm able to support it.

"As Michiganders who lived in Chicago for a few years before having kids and moving closer to the grandparents, we look forward to marking this up as a bump along the path. It is honestly this awesome community that has our spirits upbeat and well, the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of more apples where those came from."

Drummond was even upbeat enough to joke about the incident, writing, "p.s. Laporte County Sheriff's Department - if you guys happen to find these people, can you have them train my harvest team on speed picking techniques before they go to jail!?"

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