ELLSWORTH – The Happy Earth Orchard is a place where digging your bare feet into dirt is encouraged, where embracing nature is essential and where spreading positivity and joy is a way of life. Because who doesn’t want to be happy?
Like many people, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Wisniowski family took stock of their priorities and what they wanted for their family’s future. Tom and Shawn, and their three boys Christopher, 5, Kwintyn, 4 and Gabriel, 2, lived in Farmington, Minn. at the time. While their suburban Twin Cities home was nice, the couple had a different vision of happiness for their family. Tom Wisniowski, an engineer, is a country boy at heart. Stay-at-home mom Shawn Wisniowski had dreamt for some time of owning an orchard, ever since they took a trip to Bayfield’s Apple Festival in 2012.
“It was by luck, really,” said Tom Wisniowski about finding the rural Ellsworth orchard. “When the whole Coronavirus situation happened, I ended up working remotely, which opened up some doors.”
A native of Poland, he came to the United States with his family when he was 9. They settled in Chicago, but later moved to the rural community of Armstrong Creek, Wis., in Forest County. Shawn Wisniowski grew up in Two Harbors on Minnesota’s North Shore.
The Wisniowskis knew they wanted land, because their half-acre lot wasn’t cutting it.
“The boys needed dirt behind their fingernails,” Shawn Wisniowski said. “We were looking for acreage and a community where we could set down roots. Now it’s hard to get them to keep their shoes on.”
They wanted a place for the boys to run and roam, a simpler, happier, back-to-earth way of life, according to their website.
Their list of criteria included a small town, quality schools, a Catholic elementary school and acreage. Ellsworth kept popping up in their search.
“It was like divine intervention,” Shawn Wisniowski said. “It all had to fall into place to make it work.”
The pieces indeed fell and the Wisniowskis purchased Rush River Orchard & Bakery (W4616 County Road G, Ellsworth), now named The Happy Earth Orchard, in November 2020. Their 30-acre dream property includes 7 acres of apple trees, totaling 1,500 trees and 20 varieties of apples. They admit prior to moving to the orchard, their apple experience amounted to visiting orchards.
While they’ve experienced growing pains, the couple is more than ready for their new adventure.
“Half of the battle of taking on something like this is the passion,” Shawn Wisniowski said.
While many orchards in the region have reported lower inventory due to a late spring frost and summer drought, the Wisniowskis feel fortunate that their orchard was spared. They’ve had a great season so far, which should be winding down in the next couple of weeks.
Their focus is U-pick apples, but they hope to have their own pumpkins in the future. Ultimately, they want to provide a family-friendly, educational farm experience to their customers, to be unique from other experiences. While they’re not sure what that all entails yet, one idea is producing their own ciders and wines.
The orchard sells its famous apple cider donuts, homemade apple pies, apple fritters, cookies, muffins and products from local artisans, such as honey, interactive apple games, Tshirts, soaps and more in its country store. Books lovers have a great selection of applethemed books to pick from, and the whole family can enjoy the story boardwalk, which tells the story of an apple harvest. A Free Little Library also has a home on the grounds.
Shawn Wisniowski said their games and books follow the farm or apple theme, because it’s a way for families to carry their orchard fun back home into the next day. Their desire to educate people about their orchard has led to many visiting groups, such as St. Francis School, Spring Valley High School seniors, the Ellsworth Public Library storytime group, a homeschool group and a River Falls 4-H club.
As far as settling into their new community, the Wisniowskis couldn’t be more thrilled with their decision. They have found Ellsworth and its citizens to be open, inviting and welcoming. They cherish the opportunities they’ve had to meet families not only at the orchard, but through St. Francis (where their sons go to school) and in the community.
“Everyone has been incredibly friendly,” Tom Wisniowski said. “The connections you make is, it’s a really feelgood thing.”
While moving in the middle of a pandemic was tough, Shawn Wisniowski said the orchard has allowed them to meet more people and they’re loving it.
“Our dream of making a family friendly experience without families would be just that, a dream,” she said. “We want to keep building on that.”
Tom Wisniowski added that the feedback they’ve received is motivating and uplifting, exactly what they hoped when they named their slice of paradise The Happy Earth.
“Thank you for everyone who took a chance on news owners,” he said.
The Happy Earth Orchard is open Fridays noon to 5 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. To learn more, visit: thehappyearthorchard.com