Posts Tagged: family-owned business

Sum of Your Business: Al Peake – Peake Orchards

apples at Peake Orchards

There are few things that feel more “fall” than heading to an apple orchard to get a bite of a fresh, ripe apple, right where its grown.

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It was a visit to an apple orchard that convinced Al Peake to start an orchard of his own, and it was 40 years ago that he planted his first set of apple trees on his farm in rural Waukon, Iowa. Since then, Peake Orchards has seen banner seasons and bummer seasons, but it’s the love of the orchard, working in the fields, and the connection to family that keeps Al excited and inspired to tend the sweet crop year after year.

These days, Peake Orchards has 13 different apple varieties planted, and – once harvested – folks can find them in Decorah at Oneota Community Food Co-op, Fareway, and the Decorah Farmers Market. Or throw on a cozy sweater for a fall outing – you can head out to Peake Orchards to grab some yourself! They open to the public weekends starting September 21, from 9 am to 5 pm on Saturdays and 12 to 5 pm on Sundays. Catch a hayride on Sundays, from 2 to 4 pm, and mark your calendars for their annual “Fall Festival Sundays” October 6 and October 13 – there’s lots of family fun on the docket.

Read on to learn more about Al’s four decades of apple picking in this issue’s Sum of Your Business Q&A.


Name: Al Peake, Peake Orchards
Age: 62
Years in Business: Planted first trees 1979
Orchard address: 323 Northline Dr. Waukon, Iowa
Visit Peake Orchards on Facebook

1. Tell us about the “leap” moment. When/how did you decide to jump in and become your own boss?

I visited a pick your own orchard in the late 70s up in Minnesota and really thought having an orchard could be something I could really enjoy! So I started planting trees on our family farm. The first planting was 50 trees and then a couple years later 375 trees. That was the point where we were really committed to getting serious about growing apples. Since then we have expanded to well over 1,000 trees.

2. What’s the best thing about being your own boss?

The best thing about being my own boss is the flexibility to try growing methods and varieties that appeal to us and our mission. I also really enjoy working out in the orchard most of the time.

3. How about the worst?

The worst thing about being my own boss is that apple season is a short intense time of year. When early September comes it is, go like crazy, try to get things harvested, washed and sorted and try to keep up with sales. Before you know it the snow is falling and you wonder where the fall went.

The Peake family crew

The Peake family crew, from left: Molly (front), Jeremy, Jodi & Baby Byron, Jo Ann, Cathy, Lea (in front) and Al / All photos courtesy of Peake Orchards

4. Was there ever a hurdle where you just thought, “I can’t do this?” How did you overcome it?

The biggest hurdle for me was losing my original apple partner (my wife Sandy) to a brain tumor in 2010. I still had other family to help but Sandy and I had started planning the orchard from the beginning and it was devastating for me to lose her. But, God is good and since then, I met and married my current wife, Cathy, who has been a wonderful partner in the orchard and a wonderful partner as my wife!

5. Any mentors/role models you look to/have looked to?

I would say my biggest mentors have been other apple growers I have met. I have attended many a field day and have learned a ton of things from visiting other growers’ orchards. There have been many great speakers and specialists from universities throughout the country who have presented at these field days and I always leave with some new knowledge and things to try in our orchard. I am also grateful that my parents supported us and helped with the orchard from the very start.

6. What’s the one thing you wish you had known before you started?

The only thing I can say is that there is always so much more to learn than you think, when growing apples and marketing of the crop. I planted the first tree 40 years ago (I can’t even believe it’s been that long) and if I said I pretend to know it all, I would not be telling the truth. I think that the day you say you know it all and have done it all, you are setting yourself up for a serious fall. Continuing to learn has kept me young.

Locations where you can find Peake Orchards apples

You can find Peake Orchards apples at the Orchard near Waukon, or in Decorah at Oneota Co-op, Fareway, and the Decorah Farmers Market.

7. How do you manage your life/work balance?

It is very difficult to balance work in the orchard and the rest of my life and many times I have done it very poorly. I always say there is enough work in the orchard to keep me busy 24-7. I am still learning to try to prioritize what’s most important in my life and walk away from the orchard and say that is all I can do for now. With wanting to spend time with family and friends and working at Friest and Assoc. Realtors, as well as the orchard, the balance is difficult.

8. What keeps you inspired? Any quotes that keep you going?

I think the thing that keeps an old guy like me inspired is exciting new apple varieties like Honeycrisp (and some other new ones we are growing that nobody has heard about yet), strolling through the orchard and seeing a great crop hanging on the trees, and working together with family and friends (special thanks to Mark and Barbara for all their sorting help) to make the harvest happen. I also look forward to passing on the orchard to my son Jeremy and his wife, Jodi (they could run it on their own at this point, if I wasn’t around). I feel blessed to be able to spend many hours on beautiful fall days, picking a great crop of apples that God has provided!

There are lots of amazing apple orchards in the Driftless – check out some in our neck of the woods here!

Puentes/Bridges

Building Cultural Bridges: How an area non-profit is helping Midwestern dairy farmers build relationships with their immigrant employees from Mexico.

BY MAGGIE SONNEK

As Mike and Kris Ingvalson pack their bags and prepare for a late-winter trip from the frigid Midwest to sunny Arizona, Mike isn’t worried about leaving his large dairy farm. He has seven workers who will make sure everything goes as planned.

“I have the best crew I’ve ever had working for me,” he says, speaking of his team of immigrant workers, all from one region in Mexico. “They take care of me. I never worry about the work getting done.”

The location of Zongolica in Mexico; Mike & Kris Ingvalson; Mike & Adrian

At left, Mike and Kris Ingvalson pose in a ‘Happy Birthday’ frame. Above, the photo and map pinpoint where Zongolica is located in Mexico, and what the region looks like. Below, Mike poses with Adrian.
Photos courtesy Puentes/Bridges.

In fact, it was just a year ago that he took a different trip – this time to that region in Mexico. He visited one of his former employees, Adrian, and Adrian’s family.

Mike and Kris own and run a second-generation dairy farm, Ingvalson Hilltop Farms, in the southeastern Minnesota town of Caledonia. They’re one of roughly 15 farms in western Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota involved in Puentes/Bridges, a nonprofit that organizes annual trips to Mexico to bridge the cultural gap between farmers and their immigrant employees. By allowing dairy farmers to meet the wives, parents, and children of their employees, connections between the two cultures are formed. This often results in employee longevity and productivity.

Puentes/Bridges is based out of Fountain City, Wisconsin, a small town perched on the Mississippi about 40 miles north of La Crosse. Puentes is the Spanish word for bridges, and, living up to its name, the non-profit is all about building cultural bridges.

Puentes/Bridges founder, Shaun Duvall, originally started the program in the late 1990s to help ease the language barrier between dairy farmers and their employees. At the time, she was a Spanish teacher in western Wisconsin. She is thrilled that the program has continued on, and transformed into one that’s not just closing the language gap, but building lasting relationships between farmers and employees.

“It’s not rocket science,” the now-retired teacher and former Puentes/Bridges director says. “These workers want what everyone else does: A decent wage for their work and a better life for their families.”

Before hiring employees, Mike handled most of the milking and farm chores by himself – until his three kids got involved with high school activities. He and Kris wanted to be present for each of their games and band concerts. Around that same time, he started milking three times a day.

“I knew how to work with cows, but I was a little scared to work with people,” he says with a chuckle. “But, I knew if I didn’t hire people to help me, I’d miss my kids growing up.”

Though his crew changes, Mike says every hire has exceeded his expectations. In fact, they’ve become like family, strengthened by the fact that all seven men live just yards away from the barn in a house owned by Mike.

Veracruz viewed from the van; dairy farmer Stan Linder; Adrian's house built for several families

At left, the mountainous region of Veracruz, as viewed from the 10-passenger van driven by Stan Linder, a dairy farmer from Stockholm, Wisconsin (pictured above middle). Stan was one of nine area folks who went on a trip to Mexico in January 2019. Above right, Adrian’s 4,000-square-feet house, built as a home for several families. Throughout the 10 years that Adrian worked for Mike Ingvalson, he deliberately and regularly sent money home to his family so they could build that house. Photos courtesy Puentes/Bridges.

So, when Mike and Kris had the opportunity to visit former employee Adrian, they jumped at the chance. When they arrived in the small town of Zongolica, in the southern, mountainous state of Veracruz, four hours east of Mexico City, Mike was stunned. Adrian’s 4,000-square-feet home, meant for several families, was gorgeous both inside and out, he says. The most impressive part? Throughout the 10 years that Adrian worked for Mike, he deliberately and regularly sent money home to his family so they could build that house.

But, what stuck with Mike more than the spacious, beautiful home, was a conversation he had with Adrian’s mother. “I pulled her aside and said, ‘How were you able to let your son leave when he was just a teenager? Weren’t you afraid?’ She told me that yes, she was scared, but she prayed that he would be safe and would connect to a good family.” Mike pauses. “I couldn’t believe the faith she had.”

Puentes/Bridges has allowed Mike to understand the lives and backgrounds of his employees –like Adrian – many of whom are undocumented and under the risk of detention, all for the pursuit for a better life.

Immigrant workers now make up an estimated 51 percent of all dairy workers in the U.S. According to a national survey of dairy farms*, eliminating the immigrant labor force would reduce the U.S. dairy herd by 2.1 million cows. Milk production would decrease by 48 billion pounds – as would the number of dairy farms. This would cause retail milk prices to increase by a whopping 90 percent.

Puentes/Bridges group trip to Mexico January 2019

This Puentes/Bridges group traveled to Mexico in January 2019 to visit families of individuals that have worked on dairy farms in the Driftless area. / Photo courtesy Puentes/Bridges

Mercedes Falk, the nonprofit’s current director, recently returned from a trip to Mexico in January 2019. She and eight others – dairy farmers, community members, and one journalist – made the multi-day trek through several villages of Veracruz, meeting families of immigrant workers back home in Wisconsin. Traveling in a 10-passenger van driven by Stan Linder, a dairy farmer from Stockholm, Wisconsin, the group enjoyed meals of tacos and tamales, hot coffee in homemade ceramic mugs, and authentic conversations about life in both Veracruz and the Midwest.

“Spending time with these families is the most important part of the trip,” Mercedes says. “It really helps farmers understand how their employees operate.”

Mercedes worked as a special education teacher in Milwaukee before moving to rural western Wisconsin to work on a farm.

“I became so fascinated with growing food. But, I was disturbed that I didn’t know anything about where it came from,” she says. Eventually, she left teaching and got involved in the local food scene in Milwaukee, working on a small farm and in a restaurant.

“When I moved to Fountain City, there was a huge learning curve,” she says. “But, I became more self-sufficient and confident navigating challenges and finding solutions.”

That’s when the opportunity to lead Puentes/Bridges came up. John Rosenow, another dairy farmer who’s on the nonprofit’s board, and former director Shaun suggested she think about stepping up to the challenge. Now, three years later, Mercedes balances her time visiting various dairy farms where she helps with interpreting needs between farmers and their employees.

Puentes/Bridges’ paradigm of fostering relationships fits so well with dairy farms, like Mike and Kris’ Ingvalson Hilltop Farm, because of their family-owned business models.

“We have found that our stories are not that different,” Mercedes said in a recent interview with Wisconsin Public Radio. “We share similar hopes and dreams. Once people get the chance to know someone who looks different from them, they’re not as hesitant to reach out because they realize there are many more similarities than they would have thought.”

As Mike plans to pass down the farm to the third generation – his daughter and son-in-law – he knows that with help from his employees, the legacy of hard work and integrity will continue.

As for Puentes/Bridges, the journeys to Mexico to meet families of employees will also go on.

“I hope we can continue nurturing these relationships,” Mercedes says. “We share a lot more than we think.”


Passionate about storytelling, Maggie has spent much of her career interviewing fascinating folks and telling their stories. When she’s not writing, she’s sipping an iced vanilla coffee or exploring the Driftless Region with her husband and three small kids.


Learn more about Puentes/Bridges:

www.puentesbridges.org

www.facebook.com/puentesbridges

www.wpr.org/tags/puentes-bridges

www.jsonline.com – “Wisconsin Dairy Farmers Build Bridges”

progressive.org – “The Houses that Milk Built”

*The Economic Impacts of Immigrant Labor on U.S. Dairy Farms

Center for North American Studies