There’s more to this family-run Goshen business than the name suggests. Kercher’s Sunrise Orchards is, in fact, a functioning fruit and vegetable farm – but it’s also a market and a place for community members to gather during the harvest season. Visitors know Kercher’s as a hub of fun, laughter, and learning.
Kercher’s is located on Goshen’s south side, west of IN-15 and south of Kercher Road along the Elkhart River. The operation got its start a little farther north, when William Wheeler Kercher – “Wheeler” for short – planted apple trees at his home on 7th Street in Goshen. The business officially began in 1922 on 40 acres across the road from its current location.
Tom and Maureen Kercher, along with Tom’s sister Janet and her husband Steve Dudley, now own what has become a family tradition as well as a business. The couple met on a blind date set up by Tom’s great aunt, for whom she worked.
“She convinced him that he had to come up to Michigan – three hours north – to take me out,” Maureen recalled. Suffice it to say the date went well. Tom and Maureen have been married 35 years.
“We’re a team,” Maureen said. “We just work well together.”
Tom is the fourth generation to run the farm; he was preceded by W.W., Max, and Bill. The couple’s son Bill is now part of the Kercher operation, as well.
“Our girls (Laura and Mollie) and their spouses are involved in the business,” Maureen added. “They all have other jobs, but they all come back for the Harvest Festival and any time we need help.”
And the sixth generation is up and coming.
“They’re just toddlers, but they’re interested, you can tell,” she said.
Just like his grandkids, Tom was interested in the family business at a young age, too.
“I didn’t envision doing anything else,” he said. “I grew up with it. I enjoyed it. As a kid, I was here riding on tractors out in the orchard. It was a great place to grow up.”
The Kerchers own and rent more than 600 acres to grow their crops. In addition to 75 acres of apples, they raise sweet corn, pumpkins, squash, cabbage, zucchini, and peaches. Hungry customers can purchase the produce at the Kercher market, and the fruit and veggies are also distributed wholesale.
“Everything that’s grown, we have a customer for it,” Tom said.
Satisfied customers aren’t hard to find, and Kercher’s provides them with more than simply a place to shop.
Kercher’s customers love being able to pick their own apples, for one thing. Plus, generations of visitors – young and young-at-heart alike – have grown to love the farm thanks to school field trips.
And who better to lead those trips other than “Mrs. Apple” (as Maureen is often called) herself?
“[The school tours] are just so fun!” she said, her enthusiasm undimmed even in the off season.
“You eat, you take hayrides, you go through corn mazes, you go out to the gourd patch and find your favorite gourd, you get a cup filled with cider, you get a coloring book. It’s not a boring trip at all. We keep it moving really fast and keep students engaged and have a lot of fun.”
For two months in the fall, Kercher’s is jam-packed with school groups coming from as far west as South Bend, east as LaGrange and Kendallville, as far south as Warsaw, and even from Michigan. The students are guaranteed a good time, and one that’s also educational.
“We have a lot of fun, and the students learn while they’re having fun,” Maureen said. “They learn how to pick apples, a little bit about how to grow apples, about some things that can hurt and help the apples, and what we at Kercher’s do after we pick the apples.”
Mrs. Apple’s tours are a hit with parents and teachers, too. Maureen also said that for students from urban school districts, Kercher’s offers a whole new experience.
“Teachers will tell me that for these kids, this will be the first chance and maybe one of the last chances ever that they’ll have to come out to a farm and just run around, and pick an apple from a tree and see where that apple comes from,” Maureen said.
‘Good, good people’
Kercher’s is no ordinary farm market — and in Tom and Maureen’s view, the city surrounding it is no ordinary place, either.
Tom says the people of Goshen are very family- and volunteer-oriented, and they have a strong work ethic.
“Everybody works hard, from little kids up to grandma and grandpa,” he said. Tom also feels the people of Goshen are accepting of differences.
“In terms of diversity, it’s probably as well-rounded a place as there ever was,” he said.
Maureen shared an episode that illustrates, to her, “what kind of people we have in Goshen.”
It happened during a Kercher’s Harvest Festival. A crowd was gathered to enjoy the annual event, and then the snow began to fall – with a vengeance. Everyone left.
Was the festival a bust? Nope. Soon enough, everyone returned bundled in hats, gloves, coats, and scarves against the elements.
“That’s the kind of customers we have,” Maureen said. “They’re just good, good people.”
“We have a lot of fun, and the students learn while they’re having fun.”
“I didn’t envision doing anything else. I grew up with it. I enjoyed it. As a kid, I was here riding on tractors out in the orchard. It was a great place to grow up.”
“That’s the kind of customers we have. They’re just good, good people.”