Broom Orchard hits its seasonal stride

Broom Orchard hits its seasonal stride

CARLINVILLE (Aug. 31, 2017) – Some of the most valuable assets in any community are its long-established businesses — those that have been in operation, often in the same family, for 50 years or more. Such establishments are rare. They are irreplaceable.

One such business in Carlinville is Broom Orchard, which will be celebrating 50 years in the Broom family in 2018. Proprietors Jeff and Lisa Broom are the third generation of Brooms to be in the orchard business. J. Broom’s parents, William and Joan Broom, purchased the existing orchard in Carlinville in 1968. Prior to that, they worked in the family orchard in Marion County that was started by J. Broom’s grandparents in 1920.

Prior to the Broom family, the Carlinville orchard was owned by the Sooy family and dates back to the early 1900s.

“I was raised here,” said J. Broom. “When I came back from college, I got back into business with my family. We got married in 1987, then Lisa and I bought it from my mom and dad in 1998.”

Over the years, the orchard has evolved from a mostly wholesale operation to a retail operation with a focus on family and fun. “Back in those days, we raised very few varieties of apples — Jonathans, Red Delicious, Yellow Delicious, and a couple other old-time varieties,” said J. Broom, who noted his parents sold a lot of product to places like grocery stores and candy apple factories.

As competition in the wholesale market grew with the addition of foreign imports, the Brooms decided to adjust their business model by adding more varieties, extending their season and becoming primarily retail.  “That has been our focus as far as a destination for families to come out and do a ‘day-cation,” J. Broom explained.

By incorporating so many new varieties, they are able to introduce a new variety every 10 days to two weeks during the season. “There’s something always fresh–something crisp and crunchy and newly picked and ready to go.” Currently, Broom Orchard sells 26 varieties of apples, seven varieties of peaches, blackberries, plums, pears and pumpkins.

The business has also adjusted the way they sell the apples. L. Broom recalls seeing photos of half-bushels of apples lined up and ready for sale. “I remember saying we need to get quarter-pecks, which is that small sack. I remember Jeff saying, ‘My dad would just die if he saw all these quarter-pecks out there.”

The Brooms understand the market has changed and fewer people preserve large amounts of apples. “We started out with a five-year plan of planting trees that would get ready in about two-week increments,” L. Broom explained.

Another aspect of their business helps promote tourism. The Brooms host the Apple Festival and the Pumpkin Festival. “Jeff’s mom and dad started the Apple Festival, which, this year, will be the 35th year for the Apple Festival, which is Sept. 23 and 24. As Jeff and I got incorporated with his parents, we started the Pumpkin Festival, which is Oct. 7 and 8. It’s the 27th year for the Pumpkin Festival,” explained L. Broom, adding that around Labor Day is when the orchard opens its groves to pick-your-own apples and, a few weeks later, pick-your-own pumpkins customers.

Jonathan apples seems to be the favorite among customers. “Young and old, everybody knows Jonathan. You just can’t really beat a Jonathan,” says L. Broom.

Another nation wide favorite is the Honeycrisp, according to J. Broom. “We’re kind of on the southern boarder of where Honeycrisp are raised or can be raised effectively. Honeycrisp has gotten very popular. I’ve got a lot of trees and a lot of acreage of Honeycrisp. Every year, we’re going to have more and more Honeycrisp.”

Mutsu apples are among L. Broom’s favorites. “It’s a big green apple and it’s a fantastic baker. It’s tart, but it’s kind of a sweet tart. It’s really juicy and it makes the best apple sauce and it makes the best pie.”

“It makes awesome cider, which is another thing. We make our own cider here. It’s pasteurized. We’re going to start making cider Thursday,” said J. Broom

The Brooms also make their own caramel apples. “They are extremely popular. People come out and buy 10 or 12 at a time,” according to J. Broom, who credits his wife for incorporating different lines of preserves, including all-fruit, which has no added sugar and no artificial flavoring.

Honey has become another popular product at the orchard. Although there are bees kept on-site for pollination purposes, the honey that is sold is from southern Illinois.

Come fall, the Brooms do their best to make the orchard a welcome place for families. They don’t charge admission, but are able to offer things like cider slush, popcorn, picnic tables, a playground. “They can wander around the orchard, throw rocks in the pond. We encourage that. That’s what I mean by a ‘day-cation.’ During the fall, there’s school and people can’t get away for several days at a time, so they can just come out for a day and it’s awesome.”

“We’re not the type of orchard that offers a lot of fluff. We’re just a small, family orchard, offering just some good family time to come out, pick apples, have some cider, have some good fruit and just enjoy your family,” says L. Broom. “We like to say, ‘we sell fruit, the fun is free.’”

The Brooms are thankful their business draws in customers from around the region and they encourage their customers to visit other sites and businesses in Carlinville. Although people don’t often use checks anymore, L. Broom explains that she and her kids used to enjoy looking at the checks too see all the different places their customers come from. “A lot of people who come here haven’t been to Carlinville before, so they want to know where they can go eat and what there is to do here.”

Broom Orchard opens for business in July and closes in November. During the winter and early spring, they are kept busy with pruning. “Everybody thinks Jeff has time off, but it takes Jeff probably three or four months to prune the orchard,” said L. Broom.

Broom Orchard is open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday from 12 -5 p.m.

Jeff and Lisa Broom stand next to a container of freshly-picked Jonathan apples. The Broom family has been in the orchard business for three generations.