Photographer / Amy Payne
Like a lot of people who grow up around a family business, after living and breathing life at Beasley’s Orchard since he was a tot, Calvin Beasley was eager to get away from it for a bit. Absence made the heart grow fonder, as the saying goes, and while studying economics at IU, he had a revelation.
“It dawned on me that most people go to work, watch the clock and bolt at the end of the day, but that wasn’t how I felt,” Calvin says. “I saw the farm as this incredible opportunity to do something that was not only meaningful to me but also to my family.”
He appreciated how hard his parents worked to build up the business because he witnessed it firsthand.
“When they first started, it was nothing like you see today,” he says.
His grandparents, Milton and Irene, actually purchased the original 80 acres of Beasley’s Orchard in 1946. At the time, it was used as a hog farm. Early on, Calvin’s grandparents ran what would now be considered a garden center located in the metal building right off the road.
When his grandparents bought the property, the barn, which is estimated to have been erected around the time of the Civil War, was on the verge of collapse. In the mid-70s, Calvin’s dad and his friends renovated the dilapidated structure.
In the late 60, early 70s, Calvin’s father, John, got heavily involved in the family business, and he planted the first orchard. He grew cantaloupe, tomatoes and sweet corn (now Beasley’s also grows strawberries, apples, pumpkins, cucumbers, okra, green beans and asparagus).
John met Debbie, and the pair married in the 80s.
“My mom brought in retail experience and that’s when the market grew a lot,” says Calvin, noting that around that time Beasley’s started carrying other things besides produce such as jams, jellies and mixes.
According to Calvin, the small to mid-sized farms that used to sell to local grocers was no longer profitable when corporate farming took over.
“A lot of the family farms were left wondering what to do,” Calvin says. “Agritourism was an opportunity to keep the farm going.”
The Heartland Apple Festival began in 1986 and as the years progressed, priorities continued to shift more heavily towards agritourism.
“It became less about having a produce market and more about giving people a destination,” Calvin says. “We’re focused on making ourselves a place where people want to come and spend a whole day and do that multiple times a year.”
This fall marks the 33rd Annual Heartland Apple Festival where folks can pick a pumpkin, navigate the corn maze, take a hayride, listen to live music, shop from local food and craft vendors, and play in the barnyard bonanza, which includes a giant jumping pillow, ball zone, and apple cannon. Guests can also indulge in tasty caramel apples and the best apple cider in the state.
In the winter, Beasley’s devotes two consecutive weekends to Christmas at the Orchard where kids can get pictures with Santa and parents can purchase gift boxes that include cheeses, jams, jellies, salsas, syrups and honey.
Even though they have events scheduled throughout the year, fall remains the cherished season when they host things like Hometown Heroes, Dog Daze at the Maze and Halloweekend.
“For the most part, everything we do is building up to fall,” says Calvin, who typically employs 15 people but come October that number jumps to 80.
Two years ago, they began offering U-pick apples from Labor Day weekend through October.
“People want to pick apples with their kids because it’s a fun family activity,” Calvin says.
Plus, it’s a great educational opportunity to show kids how fruit is grown and picked. Calvin thinks there is a huge need in today’s world for people of all ages to learn about where food comes from and how it’s grown.
“There’s so much false information about what agriculture looks like and what we do that’s far off base,” Calvin says. “We provide an up-close chance for the public to talk to the actual people who are growing it. Building that trust between consumer and farmer is really important.”
That’s why Beasley’s Orchard hosts a ton of field trips. Last year, they had roughly 8,000 kids come through from all over central Indiana. They also host Future Farmers of America (FFA) for their national convention that’s held the last week of October in Indianapolis annually.
“These are the students who are likely going to seek careers in agriculture so they really want to learn,” says Calvin.
Though he adores his job, he also faces challenges — most notably, Mother Nature.
“This is one of the few careers where you can plan diligently, be completely ready to execute your plan, and bad weather can take it all away from you,” Calvin says. “Take apple trees, for instance. You can have a great growing season the year before. You can keep the crop load at a manageable level so you get good bud development in the summer for the following crop. You can prune perfectly all winter long. They can be coming into bloom and look absolutely wonderful. And then you can get a late frost and lose all of them just like that.”
And yet he wouldn’t trade this life for the world. His father, who battled Parkinson’s disease, passed away in June 2017.
“I’m making my family proud,” Calvin says. “I also know that I’m building something for the next generation to come.”
Though he doesn’t have children yet, he tied the knot last spring to his lovely wife Brittany.
“This was the best place to grow up. I can’t imagine a better childhood,” says Calvin, who would join the picking crews when they harvested sweet corn. He also vividly recalls riding on the tractor with his dad as he brought in bins of apples from the orchard. And his mom’s presence on the farm made an indelible impression as well.
“Watching Mom manage all of the employees and take care of the customers was a real learning experience,” says Calvin. “Even at a young age, seeing them work so hard instilled in me a great work ethic.”
Calvin, a third-generation owner, now has the pleasure of serving third-generation customers.
“We see people come out with their kids and grandkids for apples in September and hayrides and pumpkin picking in October,” Calvin says. “To see folks committed to these fall traditions tells me we’re growing in the right way.”
Upcoming Fun at Beasley’s
Hometown Heroes: September 28-29
Heartland Apple Festival: October 5-6 & Oct. 12-13
Dog Daze at the Maze: October 19-20
Halloweekend: October 26-27
Christmas at the Orchard: November 23-24 & November 30-December 1
Beasley’s Orchard is located at 2304 East Main Street in Danville. For more information, call 317-745-4876 or visit beasleys-orchard.com.