Iowa City’s beloved Wilson’s Orchard announced that its season for the 2021 year will be extended, lasting from February to December, in hopes of providing more safe opportunities for residents to get outside and participate in socially distanced activities during the cold winter months.
With this extension, Wilson’s plans to provide socially distanced outdoor winter activities for community members to engage in, baked goods, gifts and Christmas tree shopping opportunities.
Owner Paul Rasch said the orchard has been considering dramatically extending their season for quite some time, both to diversify the farm and increase their income.
“It’s actually part of a longer-term strategy,” Rasch said. “Kind of an approach that looks at increasing diversity on the farm, and that includes both what we grow, and when we sell and how we sell and things like that. And it improves cash flow to not have a big chunk of your year where there’s no money coming in.”
Wilson’s season generally spans from Aug. 1 to Oct. 31. The property is also open two Saturdays before Thanksgiving as well as two Saturdays before Christmas to provide customers with the opportunity to purchase holiday baked goods and gifts.
With COVID-19 causing financial struggles for many local businesses, Rasch said there is a sense of uncertainty as to how the season will operate, especially with COVID-19 cases on the rise across Johnson County.
Public health officials are continuously encouraging the public to engage in socially distanced, safe outdoor activities — something of which Rasch said his business has and will continue to provide for the community.
“We see it as a good thing,” he said. “We think it’s a great way for people to come out – it’s a relaxed, socially distanced, masked up experience, and people can feel good about it, since you’re outside.”
The owner said the orchard acknowledges the impact it has within Iowa City and broader Johnson County and would like to extend their season to provide residents with more opportunities to visit the property.
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“I think the most important thing is we feel like Wilson’s is kind of a special piece of property in the area,” Rasch said. “I think it’s just a great place to be, especially the fall, is a kind of energy when it’s really busy and that can be fun, as well. But the rest of the year, by and large, is more relaxed and you can really enjoy the place that is Wilson’s Orchard.”
He also said the updated operations at Wilson’s include adding variety to its baked goods made and sold on the property. They added turnovers, cinnamon rolls, and French bread alongside their signature apple cider donuts and pies.
Rasch said he is anticipating visitors to purchase various food items when they are engaging in outdoor activities that Wilson’s will offer this winter.
This year, the orchard will offer fresh cut Christmas trees from Michigan and outdoor activities for the public to participate in while shopping for a Christmas tree. In addition, Wilson’s is considering many options for outdoor winter sport activities for community members to engage in, including ice skating, sledding, and exploring different walking trails.
Juli Seydell Johnson, Iowa City Parks and Recreation director said that the department has seen an increase in usage of parks and other recreational areas, and that she encourages community members to spend time outside even during cooler winter temperatures.
“We recommend that people continue to take COVID very seriously,” Seydell Johnson said. “We know it’s going to be a long winner being inside, so bundle up and get outside whenever the weather allows for it. Don’t forget about COVID – keep your masks on, keep washing your hands, and stay socially distant through other groups.”
Wilson’s isn’t the only area business preparing for winter. Grants from the Iowa City Downtown District have helped other businesses expand patio space and heated outdoor areas to prepare for how to house patrons safely amid colder temperatures.
Larry Gullett, Johnson County Conservation director said his team is also encouraging community members to spend more time outdoors, and this encouragement has caused a sharp increase in public utilization of city and county parks.
Gullett said he is supportive of Wilson’s decision to extend their season for the upcoming calendar year, as it mirrors the conservation department’s recommendations for increasing time spent outdoors.
“I think that’s fantastic,” Gullett said. “The more organizations and businesses that we have promoting healthy lifestyles and participating in outdoor activities, the better off we all are.”