Sweet Seasons orchard draws cus­tomers in the fall. Morgan Channels | Col­legian

Nan Jasi­nowski, one of the owners of Sweet Seasons Orchard in Concord, Michigan, watches the fresh donuts fry and then roll out on a con­veyer belt. She wipes her hands on her yellow apron. The smell of freshly baked apple donuts meets cus­tomers at the front door of the orchard store.

Mean­while, her husband Ed Jasi­nowski mans the cash reg­ister.

“No cards,” he said, apol­o­gizing to a cus­tomer who pulled a credit card from a wallet.

In keeping with its name, the 35-year-old business is only open for the season  — from Sep­tember through Thanks­giving.  

Like other Michigan orchards, Sweet Seasons is bustling: Even in October, after the harvest is over, fam­ilies flock to pumpkin patches and country stores for fresh cider.

Apple cider from Sweet Seasons, Jasi­nowski explains, is made from six vari­eties of apples. Jasi­nowski also claims their cider boasts a “tart-i-ness” unique to this orchard.  

“If the cider is too sweet, then people won’t want to keep drinking it,” Jasi­nowski says with a knowing smile. It takes the Jasi­nowskis just a half-hour to press 30 – 35 bushels of apples into a batch of cider and then another two hours to clean up and san­itize it all.

For those over 21 years of age, another family fall attraction in this corner of Michigan, Meckley’s Flavor Fruit Farm in Som­erset Center, offers a selection of award-winning, home-brewed hard ciders. For the children, Meckley’s apple cider is sweeter and alcohol-free. Chubby tod­dlers clutching tiny pumpkins follow their parents to the coolers as they grab a gallon or two.  

Fall is the peak season for Glei’s Orchard in Hillsdale, too, said Tricia Bills, who works in Glei’s green­house. On Sat­urday, the orchard will host a cus­tomer appre­ci­ation day with orchard tours, store spe­cials, and family activ­ities, Bills said.

Honey-crisp apples and cider are the most popular products right now, Bills said.

Sheri Rose, pro­fessor of French, and her family joined the fam­ilies flocking to orchards for the weekend, a family activity that brought back childhood mem­ories for Rose, par­tic­u­larly getting lost in corn mazes.

“My dad had to get me,” she said, laughing.

Rose is raising her daughter, Melanie, in this Michigan tra­dition. Rose said that bringing 2-year-old Melanie on a wagon ride to a pumpkin patch allows her to relive her own childhood mem­ories. Sitting with her daughter in an apple tree-lined pumpkin patch makes her nos­talgic about her own autumn family expe­ri­ences, Rose said.

While some orchards like Meckley’s offer a wide variety of autumnal fes­tiv­ities, each little orchard in Southern Michigan seems to hold a certain spot in the hearts of Michi­ganders.  

“To me all this feels very American, more specif­i­cally, Mid­western,” Rose said. “People get their Hal­loween dec­o­ra­tions out at the end of Sep­tember. The crisper weather draws people out as well.”

Rose said vis­iting orchards is a way to get outside and enjoy sea­sonal changes, par­tic­u­larly because Amer­icans tend to be out-of-touch with the seasons and walled-off from from the outside world.

Rose said the fall fes­tiv­ities have gotten her family outside to appre­ciate the natural beauty of the area and to become more familiar with the small-town culture around them.

“It’s almost like a fall ritual,” she said. “You go pick out the pumpkin, you have your cider and donuts.”

Jo Kroeker and Nicole Ault con­tributed to this report.