One bite of a Michigan Honeycrisp. That’s all Damon Glei thinks it will take.
Every week, trucks drive 10 minutes from Glei’s Orchards and Greenhouses to deliver more than 1,200 apples to Bon Appetit, Hillsdale College’s food service.
Beginning with 50 trees and 40 acres, the Glei family has grown apples for nearly a century.
“The cold nights, high elevation in Hillsdale, and the protection of the Great Lakes gives us the best apples in the world coming out of the Midwest and namely Michigan,” Glei said. “But I guess I’m a little biased.”
The Glei family legacy began in 1918 when Alma and her son Carl purchased 40 acres on Milnes Road.
“My father and his mother moved on this farm in 1918. Most farms at the time had apple trees. They had a little bit of everything, cattle, hogs, and chickens,” said Owen Glei, Damon’s father and business partner.
Now, the Glei’s grow 24 different apple varieties along with vegetables, flowers, nursery stock, and Christmas trees on the 300 acres between the two farms.
Both father and son agree that growing a quality apple is as much an art as it is a science.
“It’s a little stick when we plant it — five feet tall, big as your thumb in width,” Glei said. “The art is taking that tree and putting it into a design to make it capture as much sunlight as possible and also keeping the longevity of the tree for 20 – 25 years.”
Every year for a field trip, Laurie Rosenberg, Hillsdale College professor of horticulture, takes her students to Glei’s to learn from these apple sages.
“They have been in the business a long time and know what works after all these years through trial and error,” Rosenberg said. “The students can gain from their experience.”
The high percentage of natural organic matter in the soil is a reason some of the best apples come from Michigan.
“Our soil has 4 – 5 percent natural organic matter compared to 1 percent in Washington. Most of their nutrients are artificially given to them. What we do with sprays does nothing to affect flavor,” Glei said.
Rosenberg agrees that Michigan fruit tastes better in part because of the soil quality.
“Everything has an energy price. If the plant is growing under very good conditions, they may create chemicals for great flavor,” Rosenberg said.
Owen and Damon are optimistic about the future of the apple industry. For the past two years, apple prices have risen largely because of new apple varieties. As Owen loves Gala and Damon loves Honeycrisp, at Glei’s, “if you haven’t found an apple that you’ve liked, you haven’t tried the right one.”