“Who doesn’t love driving a tractor?” 

Marni Carnahan, assistant manager at Plymouth Orchard, is not wrong. What born and raised midwesterner doesn’t love driving a tractor?

Tractors, along with fresh apple cider, are two of Carnahan’s favorite parts of fall. The fact is, if you want to truly experience fall in southeastern Michigan, you will most likely come into contact with either both or one of the two. It’s inescapable. 

Carnahan has worked at Plymouth Orchard in Plymouth, Mich. for 12 years. Every year, during the months of September and October, all Carnahan does is live and breath cider, donuts and apples. 

After handing me a hot cup of coffee and a warm cinnamon sugar donut, fresh off the machine, we sat down to talk. Carnahan’s enthusiasm for her job made it clear that Plymouth Orchard is something special.

Marni Carnahan, assistant manager at Plymouth Orchard, outside by the wagon ride. Tess Crowley/Daily. Buy this photo.

Carnahan is no stranger to farm work. Growing up on a small farm equipped her with the skills necessary to be successful as the assistant manager of a 100-acre farm complete with apples, asparagus, raspberries and hay. While the orchard closes for the season at the beginning of November, a market off of Ann Arbor Rd. is open until Nov. 27 where fruits and vegetables can be purchased.

Carnahan and a small crew of three-to-four employees stick around all year while seasonal employees typically work September through October.

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In 2016, Plymouth Orchard became certified organic after a three-year transitional period. Plymouth Orchard is the only organic farm in the area.

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Since the owner, Mary Emmett, decided to go organic, the grounds haven’t needed as much upkeep. The land isn’t sprayed with pesticides, which has allowed for crop intermingling and biological diversity. Not only has Emmett let the grass grow out, but she has also introduced bees to the property to help with pollination. 

Carnahan said that making the transition was well worth the effort. “I don’t mind not having to mow as much,” admitted Carnahan. 

Prior to my conversation with Carnahan on Nov. 1, I happened to visit Plymouth Orchard on Oct 20. with my family.

My grandpa’s stepmother lived on this farm before Emmett bought it and turned it into the thriving orchard it is today. 

Before Emmett bought the land, Plymouth Orchard was a dairy farm. It was inside the old milkhouse that Emmett started her business by pressing apples to make cider into a gallon-size jug.

Over the years, this part of Plymouth Township has remained home to family businesses and the land has continued to be used for agricultural purposes.

“There’s no water and sewer out here,” Emmett said. This is one of the ways that Emmett is working to conserve the land for agricultural purposes. In going organic, Emmett has contributed to the conservation efforts of fellow farmers in Plymouth Township. Transitioning to an organic farm has been a crucial step in preserving the land for future generations. 

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In an effort to preserve even more land, Emmett’s son recently purchased a one-house parcel from the farm across the street. He and Emmett are hoping to block development.

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Since 1977, when Emmett acquired the farm, she has continuously expanded and constructed the all-encompassing orchard and cider mill that Plymouth Orchard has grown into today.

“We started out with a mid-structure and then we went out once, and then we went out twice on either side and then we went out again and so on,” Emmett said.

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Emmett had never even been to a cider mill before opening up her own. 

”We just want to grow apples and said we aren’t making money here and someone said cider is good and then, of course, you have to make donuts.” 

Emmett and her family are on an ongoing, seemingly endless journey. They have transformed a dissipated dairy farm into the thriving 100-acre organic farm that Plymouth Orchard is today.

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Plymouth Orchard isn’t the only cider mill in the area. Many of the local farmers are part of the Cider Maker’s Guild, and they cheer each other on during the annual Master Cider Maker contest.

Carnahan praises the nearby farmers, emphasizing the fact that there is no competition between them. Each orchard is slightly different, with its own niche. Some might go to Wiard’s Orchard for the haunted hayride, for example. Others might flock to current Master Cider Maker, John Erwin’s Orchards for a fresh glass of apple cider. 

If one farmer needs an extra hand, Carnahan says, they know there is a support network of farmers in the area to help them out.

Everyone is united under the same goal: to preserve the land their orchards reside on for future generations.

For Plymouth Orchard, the 2021 season was their best season yet. Last fall, they were the only orchard in the area to shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, they’ve been able to bounce back.  

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Tess Crowley/Daily. Buy this photo.

After a record-breaking season of sales, Plymouth Orchard is happy to be open again. For the past two months, the orchard has provided its loyal customers with fresh vegetables, fruit, pumpkins, donuts and cider — not to mention the full farm experience complete with a wagon ride, hay and farm animals. 

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Assistant photo editor Tess Crowley can be reached at crowlete@umich.edu.