From the farm to the table

Published 11:23 pm Friday, October 27, 2017

Longtime owners transition their orchard to new owners


EMMONS — Now that the fall season is in full swing, many of the area farmers are getting close to finishing their work in the fields.

Email newsletter signup

While farmers are nearing the end of their harvesting season, local gardeners have been hard at work all summer long.

Huntley Gardens in Emmons is one of the most well-known gardens in the area. Specializing in a variety of apples, Huntley Gardens grows and harvests many fruits and vegetables throughout the spring, summer and fall seasons.

The Huntley Gardens, located in Emmons, specializes in growing a variety of different apples, but also produces many more fruits and vegetables to be sold at local farmers markets. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

Owned by Wayne and Verlys Huntley, the gardens grow many different products: apples, pears, strawberries, tomatoes, asparagus, peas, sweet corn and much more are all grown and sold locally at various farmers markets in the area.

The Huntleys have lived on the orchard since 1965, but didn’t start selling commercially until around 1990. Huntley said they have formed so many relationships with customers and other vendors over the years that it would be impossible to name all of the great people they’ve met.

“The marketing aspect is so fun, (Wayne) particularly enjoys that part,” she said. “You get to meet and know a lot of people. You get acquainted with so many people at the markets, that it starts to feel like an extended family after so many years. You get to know their families and they get to know yours. It’s fun.”

One of the greenhouses at Huntley Gardens. This one housed rows of tomato plants at different stages of the growing process. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

Huntley said she has been gardening her entire life. She credits her passion for gardening to a love of being outside, working with her hands and to her mother, who was also an avid gardener. Her first trip to sell at the farmers market came after she found herself with a few extra raspberries and wanted to get them off her hands. After that, it just started to catch on, she said.

However, after nearly 30 years in the business, Huntley has started to apprentice a new couple to come in and take over the reigns. She said she and her husband will always be around to help, but it’s time for someone else to run the gardens.

“We’re the oldest vendors at the market,” Huntley said. “We know we can’t do this that many more years. But I think it’s healthy, it’s good to have activities, something on your mind and something you enjoy to do. I see people who retire and don’t have much to do, and they seem to decline in mental and physical capacities. So we just want to keep going as long as we can.”

The couple working under and preparing to take over the business from the Huntleys is Allen and Krista Perkins. Huntley described Allen Perkins as someone who didn’t have a whole lot of gardening experience when he started, but a love of being outside and a passion for working with his hands. She said he has learned a lot during his time at the gardens, not only from her, but from many of the other vendors at the markets as well. Huntley said everyone at the market usually specializes in a few different things, but they all are very open to anyone with questions and are always willing to share tips and tricks.

Huntley talked about what the most rewarding aspects of running the gardens has been for her.

One of the many tomato plants located at Huntley Gardens that was almost ready to be harvested and sold at the Albert Lea farmers market. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

“Well it wouldn’t be the money,” she said with a laugh. “It’s hard to make a living doing this, which is unfortunate. For young people to get into the business, they need money to support their families, and that can be hard doing this alone. If you go to two markets to increase your income, but that means you’re going to be gone a lot.”

Even though she has started to take a few steps back from the gardening industry, she still tries to stay involved when she can.

“Although I’m not on the (farmer’s market) board of directors anymore, I still sit in on some of their meetings,” Huntley said. “It was about two years ago when I thought I really needed to get out, so we could get younger people in here to learn about the process while I’m still around to answer questions and help as I can. We’ve got some of those younger people around now, and they’re doing a great job.”

The Huntleys don’t currently have a timetable for when they will officially give up the business, but she said she plans to be around for as long as she possibly can.

Current owner of the gardens, Verlys Huntley, left, stands with one of her eventual successors, Allen Perkins. The Huntleys plan to hand off the business once they feel they are ready. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

About Tyler Julson

Tyler Julson covers sports for the Albert Lea Tribune.

email author More by Tyler