As the leaves change and the temperature drops, students and community members alike are beginning to crave the traditional trappings of the fall season.
Uncle John’s Cider Mill in St. Johns provides all the pumpkins, hot cider and donuts anyone could want. What began in the ’70s as a wholesale fruit and vegetable farm has grown into one of the most popular attractions in Michigan.
President Mike Beck, who inherited the farm from his father, John, said the cider mill sees anywhere from 10,000-12,000 people on a good day during the weekend.
“I’ve been helping since I was 8 years old,” Beck said. “We try to do it bigger and better than everyone else.”
According to Beck, the most popular aspects of Uncle John’s are the cider production and its donuts. In addition, visitors can enjoy wine tastings, local musicians and a well-stocked gift shop.
Last year, Uncle John’s cider took third place in the Royal West and Bath Show – the largest cider competition in the world.
Mason junior Michael Preston and Grass Lake junior Nicholas Waskiewicz have been frequenting Uncle John’s since childhood and attribute its success to the quality produce and unique family atmosphere.
“It’s something unique that’s kind of a good distance away,” Preston said.
Both Preston and Waskiewicz first discovered the cider mill around the age of 10 and have been compelled to return almost every year.
“I used to come here with my family all the time,” Waskiewicz said. “It’s just kind of a fun way to hang out.”
Shelby Township junior Kayla Huebner first visited Uncle John’s as part of a class outing her freshman year and has returned several times.
“I visit cider mills every single fall season,” Huebner said. “I went my freshman year as a social with my HON 100 class, and again last fall with the Red Cross group on campus.”
Huebner has been to several orchards and cider mills in the southeast Michigan region, including Westview Orchards in Washington Township and Yates Cider Mill in Rochester Hills.
“I have been to Blake’s Orchard and Cider Mill in Armada more times than I can count,” Huebner said. “I hope to venture out to the Lansing area. I hear there are some nice ones that way from my friends at (Michigan State University).”
Beck says the tradition of Michigan cider mills might be what keeps people coming back every year.
The mill also prides itself on showcasing local bands that have been in the area for many years.
“It’s one of the few places where you can see where your food is grown,” Beck said. “I think there’s a lot of people who miss that connection sometimes and cherish it when you see it. To a lot of people, food comes from a grocery store, but it doesn’t start there.”
Jack Marshall of Kate’s Kettle Korn has been bringing his business to Uncle John’s Cider Mill for the last six years, where he sells up to 500 pounds of kettle corn over the busiest weekends.
Kate’s Kettle Korn, of Stockbridge, was founded in 2001 and takes the business to several festivals in the Michigan area, including the Mint Festival in St. Johns.
“We have met a lot of really good people,” Marshall said. “People who we’ve met through this (have become) second families.”
According to Beck, there are hopes of expanding cider production to local grocery stores and restaurants in the Michigan area.
“We’ve maxed out our ability to do much more on the property,” Beck said. “(We’ll) probably expand our hard cider business more so you can find it more locally. It’s the most local thing that you can get.”