Hillside Orchard celebrates 75 years of apples, berries and more

by Chris Studor

Hillside Orchard and Farm Market began its humble beginnings 75 years ago with the young Bowman boys selling apples from a table made from a couple of concrete blocks with a board on top.

The business has grown over the years and has become a Hinckley mainstay for residents looking for fresh produce, u-pick blueberries and apples and homemade bakery. Come fall, hayrides and pumpkin picking are added to the mix.

The farm is located on Center Road., just east of W. 130th Street, next to Hope Memorial Gardens. In 2023, the Bowman family celebrates its 75th year of operating Hillside Orchard.  

The farmstand itself has come a long way from a table of concrete blocks and boards and has been expanded several times. When customers walk into the market today, they will find cases filled with fresh produce, a bakery section and tables offering pickles and jams galore, bulk baking ingredients and so much more.

A prominent history wall inside the building contains photos and stories of the farm’s development over the years. A neighboring wall showcases antique farm implements used by family over the years. Those tools belonged to the father of owner Allen Bowman’s late wife, Judy.

After 37 years of marriage, Judy passed away 1984 and the couples’ strong commitment to their faith is evident by the many inspirational signs scattered on the market’s walls. Passersby are familiar with the marquee on the outside of the building, which regularly advertises the latest crops coupled with an inspirational message.

The original farmsite consisted of 108 acres, purchased by Arthur W. Bowman in March 1914. Arthur and his wife, Nettie, raised four sons. With Arthur’s death in 1948, the farm was divided. Ninety-four acres were purchased by Bowman’s son, Howard who carried on general farming. His other son, Ward, purchased the remaining 14 acres in 1948 and named it Hillside Orchard. Ward and his wife, June, built a new house for their three sons, Allen, Wayne and Thomas.

When Ward died at the age of 100 years and 4 months, Allen and his wife, Judy, closed their tire store, which also had been located on the farm property, and took up running the farm full time. The farm includes well over 100 acres of fruit trees with large swaths of blueberry patches, pumpkin patches, as well as a barn in the back. Bowman, now in his 80’s, oversees the entire operation with the help of family and staff.

When asked what advice he would give to a young person thinking of farming today, Bowman said, “The person has to love nature, love to be outside and not be interested in making $800,000 a year, having a big house and a three-car garage,” said Bowman. “I would tell the person to follow their heart.”

Bowman says the upcoming fall season has always been “the heart” of his business. Throughout the months of September and October, motorists driving by are likely to see yellow school buses parked out front which deliver groups of preschoolers and kindergarteners to the property. Bowman said the tours were initiated by his late wife, Judy, a former school teacher. He said the decision to leave teaching, given her love for children, wasn’t easy. Bowman said Judy once told him she was given a message from heaven saying, “I will bring you thousands of children” and how true that message became. Not only did she develop a farm tour, but she took over bakery duties and her baked goods were so popular she had to bring in help from family.

The bakery is now headed by Ronnie Schuessler.

To begin Each Hillside Orchard tour, the tour guide of the day reads two books written by staffer Elizabeth Bruick, titled “Papa Bear’s Apple Orchard” and “Mama Bear’s Pumpkin Patch.” For those who don’t know, Bowman has been affectionately dubbed “Papa Bear, and Judy was “Mama Bear.  

The children then tour the orchard on a hayride, stopping for an apple peeling demonstration at the barn. They are then treated with cider and a donut and are sent home with a treat bag containing a small pumpkin, treats and a Hillside Orchard coloring book.

Once winter arrives, Bowman said, it’s pruning time. Bowman said about 125 hours are put in pruning trees, which means there’s no time to prune them all in one year. That means trees that were not pruned the previous year are the first  to undergo pruning. Blueberry bushes, he said, are even more time consuming.

“If you don’t prune, the trees and bushes are not going to get the needed sunlight,” Bowman explains. “Watering plants can take up to 12 hours a day.”

The endless hours of work are worth it as demonstrated by the continuous flow of families arriving in early July to pick blueberries. For many families, blueberry picking and apple picking are family traditions.

Hinckley resident Heidi Dyke arrived to pick blueberries with her daughter, Anna, this July. The duo was personally escorted by Bowman to the blueberry patch and Bowman, with his grandfatherly ways, made them feel at ease.

“We come here every year,” said Dyke. “As we pick, we eat some and most go in the bucket. I cook with them, freeze some and make a fantastic dessert of lemon curd pie with blueberries on the bottom.”

While a great deal of the fruit is offered fresh, a portion of the fruit crops go into making pies. The display case empties quickly with freshly baked pies bursting with the farms fresh fruit. In the winter, the market offers homemade Christmas cookies. Serving customers, many of whom they greet by their first names, are Cindy Kent and Christi Hostettler.

Bowman says he never sees himself retiring, but noted that his youngest son, Scott, and his wife, Dawne, are helping to keep Hillside Orchard up and running into the future.

“As my wife said in the days before she passed, ‘We don’t say goodbye, we say see you later.’” Bowman said. “She added, ‘If you give your life to Jesus, there are no ‘goodbyes” just “see you laters.’” ∞

Allen Bowman stocks the coolers at Hillside Orchard with freshly picked blueberries from the farm. In addition to offering customers the chance to pick their own blueberries, the farm also offers them them the opportunity to pick apples in the fall. Photo by C. Studor.
Kristy Andrew (right) and her daughter, Heather (left), are repeat customers at Hillside Orchard where Allen Bowman takes the time to escort each family to the rows of blueberry bushes to show them which berries are ripe for the picking. Photo by C. Studor.
It’s not all about apples at Hillside Orchard, as staffer Christi Hostetler demonstrates as she chops up fresh rhubarb in the farm’s kitchen area.

On our cover (Photo): Now celebrating its 75th year in business, Bowman’s Hillside Orchard and Market has become a Hinckley township mainstay for fresh produce, bakery and a plethora of homemade products. Photo by C. Studor.