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Hoch Orchard

32553 Forster Road, La Crescent Minnesota

 

BACKGROUND

 

American Farmland Trust (AFT) and Renewing the Countryside (RTC) are seeking a farm buyer for a 60.77-acre Orchard near La Crescent, Minnesota. The Orchard will be sold subject to an agricultural conservation easement, which will limit future subdivisions and restrict the use of the property to agricultural uses. The effect of this easement will be to reduce the Orchard’s sale price and make the property more affordable for a farmer to purchase. The easement is summarized below. 

This Request for Proposal (RFP) includes a description of the property and current infrastructure, an overview of the process and timeline, and an application. Offers to purchase the property will be accepted beginning March 1, 2024, and reviewed on a rolling basis. Applications will be accepted through April 15, 2024.

 

ABOUT AFT AND RTC

 

AFT is a national nonprofit with the mission to save the land that sustains us by protecting farmland, promoting sound farming practices and keeping farmers on the land. AFT has recently started a Buy, Protect, Sell-plus program to increase the protection of farmland and facilitate the transfer of affordable farmland to the next generation and emerging farmers. Under this program AFT purchases agricultural land, permanently protects that land with an agricultural conservation easement, transitions the land to the next generation of farmers, and encourages and supports the adoption of regenerative farming practices by those farmers. 

For the past three years, AFT has been working closely with Renewing the Countryside (RTC), a nonprofit that champions and supports innovative initiatives that build more sustainable and vibrant communities and food systems. RTC coordinates the Midwest Farmland Access Hub—a collective of over twenty organizations working together to help beginning farmers secure improved access to land in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Through this work, AFT and RTC aim to increase opportunities for land access and tenure for emerging generations of farmers.

 

PROPERTY DESCRIPTION

 

Hoch Orchard is a diversified farm situated on a ridge over the Mississippi River Valley in the Driftless Region currently owned by Harry and Jackie Hoch. The property is located near the city of La Crescent, MN, overlooking rolling hills to the west. The Mississippi River is five miles to the east. Although the Orchard feels remote and tranquil, it is just a 30-minute drive to Winona, MN, 50 minutes to Viroqua, WI, and 2.5 hours from both the Twin Cities and Madison, WI.

The Orchard includes 10,000 fruit trees on 35 acres, with over 50 varieties of apples as well as cherries, apricots, plums, strawberries, raspberries and a mixture of vegetables and livestock. The Hochs have a long history of utilizing their apple stock for a diverse set of enterprises, including processing the fruit into jams and sauces and juice and cider. The Hochs have also fermented juice into vinegar onsite or sold the juice in bulk to local distilleries and breweries for apple brandy and hard cider. In addition to fruit production, the Hochs have rotationally grazed pigs, sheep, and chickens between the rows of trees. 

 

Land

  • 10,000 trees planted along contour lines on 35 acres

  • 2-acre vineyard

  • ½-acre pollinator plot

  • Spruce and popular windbreaks

  • 15-acre woodlot

  • 15-acre hayfield

 

Infrastructure

  • 16x18 ft., 4-bedroom mobile home with 10x20 addition

  • 14.70 ft., 2-bedroom mobile home with new windows

  • Packing facility and commercial kitchen (built 2007) 2 walk-in coolers, and box/bottle storage room; continuous belt press, bulk tank and bottler, packing line sold separately

  • Barn used for machine storage and workshop

  • Storage shed for farm implements and equipment

  • 3 high tunnels

  • 2 livestock sheds

  • Mobile chicken tractors fitted for rotation through orchard lanes

 

Note that there is a small farmhouse located on the property that is not included in the sale. The Hochs will retain a life estate on this house along with 10,000 square feet (approximately ¼ of an acre) surrounding the house. The Hochs intend to live in this house for part of the year. When the Hochs relinquish the life estate, the house and lot will revert to the owner of the property.

 

TIMELINE

 

AFT has entered into an agreement to purchase the property from the Hochs by November 2024. During our contract period, AFT wishes to identify a qualified farmer to purchase the property from AFT subject to an agricultural conservation easement held by AFT. Our preference is to sell the property to a qualified farmer-buyer at the same time as AFT acquires ownership of the property.  However, AFT is willing to lease the property to a qualified farmer for a reasonable period of time prior if needed to facilitate the farmer’s eventual purchase of the property. If you are interested in a lease prior to purchase, please note this in the application.

 

PROCESS

 

AFT and RTC are working together to identify a purchaser of the Orchard. RTC and AFT will host a virtual meeting in early February 2024 to answer questions about the farm and the process and to discuss the agricultural conservation easement and how it will impact the property. 

 

An open house for interested buyers will occur in late February and Jackie Hoch will be available to answer questions about the property and the historic uses of the farm. Prior to attending the open house, AFT and RTC request that interested buyers complete an initial application to indicate interest.

 

Following the open house, prospective buyers interested in moving forward should be prepared to complete an application and provide information about their professional and agricultural backgrounds and their plans for the farm. Resources will be provided to help prospective buyers in assembling a business plan.

Applications will be accepted beginning March 1, 2024, and reviewed on a rolling basis. Applicants are encouraged to submit all materials by April 15, 2024, for consideration. More details on the selection process can be found below. Individuals or groups of farmers, farming collectives or cooperatives, or non-profit farming organizations are all invited to apply.

 

Potential buyers are encouraged to reach out to Bonnie Warndahl at bonnie@rtcinfo.org with questions and to indicate their interest in the Orchard so that they may be informed of updates about the sale.

 

MINIMUM PURCHASE PRICE

 

The minimum purchase price that will be considered is $550,000. Note that the purchase price does not include taxes and other associated closing costs.

 

As a 501c3 organization, AFT may not sell the Orchard for below the property’s restricted agricultural value (i.e. the value of the Orchard once it is restricted by agricultural easement). The easement allows AFT to sell the property for less than its fair market value while ensuring that the land remains available for agricultural use. The easement should not interfere with a future farmer’s intention of utilizing the property for farming purposes.

 

AGRICULTURAL CONSERVATION EASEMENT

 

An agricultural conservation easement is a perpetual, binding agreement between a landowner and AFT that places permanent restrictions on the development and use of the property. Generally, agricultural conservation easements are designed to protect agricultural and other natural resources associated with the property including the natural, scenic, or open-space values of the property, assuring its availability for agricultural, forest, recreational, or open-space use, protecting natural resources, and maintaining or enhancing air or water quality. Typically, an agricultural conservation easement has the effect of lowering the fair market value of the property.

 

When AFT sells the Orchard, it will be subject to an agricultural conservation easement (ACE) held by AFT.  We will develop the terms of the ACE in consultation with the future buyer. However, in general terms, the ACE will allow for all types of agricultural uses, new agricultural structures, and additional farm labor houses. The ACE will restrict the ability to subdivide the property and will only permit the construction of one additional single-family residential dwelling.

 

The ACE will include restrictions to ensure that the property is used for and remains available for agricultural use and that any future sales of the property are made to qualified farmers at agricultural value. These restrictions will further reduce the fair market value of the property beyond the reduction normally attributable to a standard agricultural conservation easement. Future buyers will also be encouraged to follow an agricultural practices management plan. AFT and RTC will work with the future buyer(s) to connect with available resources to support the adoption of regenerative agricultural practices on the land.

 

SELECTION PROCESS

 

The competition for farmland is significant and to ensure a fair and transparent process, AFT and RTC will rely on the input and expertise of an independent advisory committee who are not employees of RTC or AFT. This committee is comprised of experts in agricultural production, farm lending, and business planning with an understanding of local markets. The committee will review all applications and provide a recommendation on the top candidates. These candidates will then be invited to have a conversation with AFT and RTC to discuss the transaction and the applicant’s background and interest in purchasing the farm. 

 

In evaluating proposals, the advisory committee will consider and make its recommendation based on the following criteria:

  • Willingness of farmer to pay agricultural market value of the property subject to the ACE and the farmer’s ability to secure financing at closing (formal financing approval is not necessary to submit a proposal)

  • The degree to which an applicant’s proposal is 

    • (1) well-suited to the size, soils, and configuration of the farm; 

    • (2) well-suited to local markets and local demand; 

    • (3) likely to encourage the long-term productive agricultural use of the land; and 

    • (4) economically practicable. 

  • Although not required, preference will be given to applicants with orchard experience who plan to utilize and enhance the existing agricultural infrastructure on the property.

  • Level of farming experience and training related to the applicant’s proposed farm operation.

  • Preference will be given to proposals where food or fiber for human use and consumption is produced.

 

ADDITIONAL MATERIALS AVAILABLE BY REQUEST

  • Appraisal

  • Draft Agricultural Conservation Easement with Affirmative Farming and Affordable Farmland Covenants

  • List of farm equipment for sale (note that farm equipment will be sold separately)

  • Resources for completing a business plan

  • Building inspection

 

APPLICATION:

The application will follow a three-step process. The first step is to complete the Hoch Orchard Application Phase I (questions outlined below).  Applicants who complete the questions under Phase I will be invited to an open house at the Orchard at the end of February. Attendees will be able to tour the farm and ask Jackie Hoch questions about the property. Following the open house, applicants who are interested in purchasing the property must complete a more detailed application under Phase II. An independent advisory committee will evaluate applications and top candidates will be invited to participate in an interview.

Both individuals and groups of farmers with multiple proposed enterprises are encouraged to apply. If applying as part of a group or cooperative, please ensure that all members of the cooperative participate in the application and include details on each member’s experience and proposed plans.

If preferred, please note that we can accommodate an interview in lieu of a written application. Should that be your preference, please contact Bonnie Warndahl (scroll to the bottom for contact info). 

Phase I

  1. Name, contact information

  2. Why do you want to purchase Hoch Orchard?

  3. Provide a summary of your farming background, including relevant training, apprenticeship or work experience, and/or connections to the local community. 

    1. Do you have any experience owning and/or operating a farm? 

    2. What types of operations have you worked on and for how long? 

 

Be sure to include information about where you have farmed including any experience farming within the southeastern

 

Minnesota/southwestern Wisconsin region and/or orchard-related experience.

  1. Given what you know about the farm, what are your potential goals for the property? Include your short- and long-term goals for the operation including any changes or improvements that you would hope to make. Also note your preferred timeline for implementing those plans.

 

Phase II

  1. After visiting the farm, note any adjustments to your answers to the questions in Phase I.

  2. Provide a three-year income and expense projection for your proposed operation.

  3. Do you have any non-farm uses planned (e.g. education programming, agritourism)?

  4. How will you finance the purchase of the property? If you are selected as the buyer, you will need to provide evidence of your ability to secure financing to purchase the property.

  5. What is your timeline for beginning production on the land? Do you intend to purchase the land from AFT immediately or do you plan to rent the farm for any length of time? If you are interested in renting before purchasing, how long would you anticipate renting from AFT? Note that AFT would charge a market rental rate but could simultaneously accept installment payments credited toward the eventual purchase of the property. 

  6. Describe your experience implementing sustainable agricultural practices. Though not required, letters from NRCS describing conservation practice adoption are welcome.

  7. Do you have any conditions that you’d need to include in an offer to purchase the land from AFT (e.g. do you need to sell a current property or obtain financing to purchase the farm)? 

  8. Do you have any familiarity with agricultural conservation easements? Are you comfortable owning a farm that is protected by an agricultural conservation easement?

  9. Any other information that you think is important for consideration. This could include an analysis of markets to sell your products, reference letters, or press regarding past agricultural operations.

To request additional information or if you have further questions or need assistance with the application, please contact Bonnie Warndahl at bonnie@rtcinfo.org or Alison Volk at avolk@farmland.org.  

Hoch Orchard & Gardens—La Crescent, MN
 

Farm Summary​

 

Hoch Orchard and Gardens is a certified organic  operation in Southeast Minnesota with a well developed market at food co-ops in nearby LaCrosse,  Rochester, the Twin Cities, and surrounding areas. 

 

Situated on a ridge over the Mississippi River Valley in the Driftless Region, this 65-acre diversified farm includes 10,000 fruit trees on 35 acres. There are over 50 varieties of apples, as well as cherries, apricots,  plums, strawberries, and raspberries, and a mix of  vegetables and livestock.  

Fresh whole apples are a delicious final product,  while also being the foundation for a diversity of  associated enterprises. Some fruits grown on the farm are processed into jams and sauces, and about half is pressed into juice in a fully equipped commercial  kitchen. Some of this cider is bottled up and sold fresh alongside the apples, while some is fermented on-farm into vinegar or sold in bulk to local distilleries and  breweries for apple brandy and hard cider.  

The complex flavor of Hoch Farm’s dry farmhouse-style  cider comes from the naturally occurring yeasts that spontaneously ferment some of the ciders and from the tartness of the special cider variety of apples used. With their pleasingly unique taste and catchy names  like Purple Reign and Honey Honey, these ciders have become local favorites at stores, pubs, and restaurants  throughout the region. Any given year, the operation can produce enough juice for 3,000 cases or more of  hard cider.

 

The orchard also makes a great environment for pigs, sheep, and chickens, which the Hochs rotate through paddocks between rows of trees to eat fallen apples.  In addition to feeding the livestock, this practice helps control pests, fertilize the soil, and stimulate soil microorganisms.

 

 

apples at sunset.jpeg

“If you have animals on the farm, you  are closing the nutrient cycle. We do as much as we can to increase diversity in a way that mimics natural  ecosystems,” explains owner Jackie Hoch, who said they also use compost teas to foster microbial diversity and  boost the ecological balance of the system.

Hoch aerial.jpeg

Setting & History 

 

Owner Harry Hoch’s father Andy established the  orchard in the 1950s and planted 60 acres of trees over the course of 30 years. Prior to the 1940s, this farmland had been in dairy production, and before the 1800s it was probably covered in forest. Some of those old apple trees remain, such as an heirloom Double Red Delicious, although the majority are new disease resistant varieties that were planted over the past 15 years by Harry and Jackie Hoch.  

Located just outside of La Crescent, MN, Hoch  Orchard overlooks rolling hills merging into the sunset in the west—and the Mississippi River—five miles east as the crow flies. From this ridgetop vantage point, you can watch a thunderstorm roll in from the farthest  horizon.

Most of the land is sloping with a few flatter  areas and a handful of small ponds that Harry dug for wildlife, run-off collection, and as a drinking source for livestock. A one-acre native-plant pollinator plot attracts fireflies, crickets, ladybugs, and several  local species of grassland birds. 

The farm is set up into different zones based on  fruit species or variety, separated by rows  of poplar and spruce trees and livestock fencing.  The trees protect the fruit while still allowing ventilation to inhibit fungal pathogens. A wide fence rings the whole orchard, which is surrounded by a circular paddock for moving livestock. A final ring of deer fencing around the circular pasture keeps livestock in and deer out. 

Beyond the deer fence, the remaining 30 acres is split between woods and hayfield.  

Driving up the gravel road that leads to Hoch Orchard  lends a sense of tranquillity and remoteness, yet Hoch is a short 20-minute drive from the dynamic La Crosse metro area, home to some 150,000 people,  three colleges, a selection of annual festivals, cultural  attractions, and many good restaurants. The orchard is  30 minutes downriver from Winona, MN, 50 minutes  from Viroqua, WI, and 2.5 hours from both the Twin  Cities and Madison, WI. In that sense Hoch Orchard is  in the center of lots of action and fun!

hoch hard ciders.png

Farm Business 

 

Hoch Orchard and Gardens thrives on the diversity of its enterprises and markets. While the fresh fruit, vinegar, and juice sell mainly through about a dozen food coops, the Hochs sell the whole gamut of their fresh produce, sauces and jams, frozen meat, and fermented products  

directly from their farm, as well as at a local farmers market. In addition, they sell juice in bulk to several regional cideries, wineries, breweries and distilleries to make into hard cider, wine, and apple brandy.  

 

All processed products are managed through two subsidiary businesses.

 

Established in 2008, Minnesota’s Finest Fruit Products LLC makes fresh juices and jams.  

 

Minnesota’s Finest Fermented Products LLC has been a licensed Minnesota farm winery and cidery since 2015, allowing alcoholic beverages to be sold on the farm. 

Buildings & Assets 

Land 

  • 65-acre property 

  • 10,000 trees planted along contour lines on 35 acres 

  • 2-acre vineyard  

  • 1/2-acre pollinator plot 

  • Windbreaks (spruce and poplar trees) 

  • 15-acre woodlot 

  • 15-acre hayfield 

Houses 

  • Worker accommodations: 16x18ft 1995 mobile home, 4-bedroom, with a 10x20 addition 

  • Additional housing: 14 x 70ft mobile home,  

  • 2-bedroom, with new windows installed in 2017.

Buildings 

  • Packing facility and commercial kitchen building  (built in 2007) 

  • JWI 18 in. continuous belt press 

  • Bulk tank and bottler 

  • Packing line 

  • 2 walk-in coolers 

  • Box/bottle storage room 

  • Converted barn (machine storage and workshop) 

  • Storage shed (farm implements and equipment) 

  • 3 High tunnels (fruit and vegetable production) 

  • 2 livestock sheds (pigs, chicken, sheep) 

  • Mobile chicken tractors fitted for rotation through orchard lanes between rows of trees

Potentials &  Possibilities 

Hoch Orchard has evolved over time, having started  with a strong focus on fresh fruit and juice, and  increasingly adding lightly processed and fermented  products to the mix. Thanks to the commercial kitchen  and high-capacity equipment, the potential to further increase production of juice, cider and other fermented products is high.

 

With its diversified production, Hoch Orchard and Gardens’ potential to expand on-farm sales and agritourism is strong. The orchard attracts visitors  to the farm with little effort, and can usually ring up as  much as $75 per purchase because people also buy meat, vegetables, berries, stone fruit, cider, brandy, and wine, for example.

 

Hoch Farm’s  product diversity and vegetable production capacity  make developing a Community Supported Agriculture  (CSA) program a promising possibility as well. 

When operating at full capacity, the farm produces  6,000-8,000 bushels per year of apples, and has garnered  as much $500,000 in gross revenue, mainly from fresh apple and juice sales to food coops. This level of production takes five full-time year-round workers  (including the principal operators), plus 12 seasonal employees during the harvest season.

Transition  Support 

 

The Hoch’s are working with Renewing the Countryside and American Farmland Trust (AFT) to  transition the farm and its enterprises to a new owner who will continue farming it in an ecologically sound manner. 

 

Protecting the land with an Agricultural Conservation Easement held  by AFT will allow a buyer to purchase the land for its agricultural value, rather than its higher development value, thus keeping it affordable for the next generation of farmers to take over. 

For interest/information regarding Hoch Orchard please contact Bonnie Warndahl at bonnie@rtcinfo.org or 612-462-9311

In December of 2022 Renewing the Countryside hosted a zoom event to feature Hoch Orchard & Gardens and their quest for farmers to take over their orchard and cidery business. Watch this video to learn more about the Hoch's, their goals for the land, and the opportunities they are offering to the next generation of orchard owners. 

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