By Sandy Hanson
Special to the Economist
SOLON– Oct. 6 was the perfect day for the Solon Senior Advocates to embark on an orchard tour. The sun was shining, the temperature was in the 80s and Mother Nature complied with her full complement of fall colors. The first stop after dining at Old Gold Senior Dining was Wilson’s Orchard where the fall apple harvest was in full supply. Two buses of West Branch school children were there, some seated in the grass playing games with their teachers, others taking tractor rides while some gathered in the sales barn listening to the apple ladies explain apple facts and demonstrate an old-fashioned apple peeler. The tour members shopped among the various items for sale, artfully woven baskets, T-shirts. jellies and jams, seven different freshly picked apple varieties and apple items in the freezer case. Everyone had a fresh, hot apple turnover and some bought frozen to take home.
The next stop was the Stone Academy school house. The Advocates had obtained the key from the high school office and had been given permission to make a visit to the earliest school house in Johnson County. Built in 1842 of native limestone, it served as a school until 1954 and is now on the National Register of Historical Places maintained by the Solon Community School District. Recently, maintenance work had been done including new window shutters, flower box, door and signage. The interior represents a typical country school, a row of double desks and two rows of single desks facing the teacher’s desk and blackboard. A pot belly stove provided warmth through the bitter Iowa winters, and by some accounts the teacher was responsible for hauling the coal scuttle in for the daily fire.
The group stopped next at Kroul’s Gardens, decked out for Halloween with ghouls and ghosts, witches and cats, owls and scary creatures at every turn. Flowers abounded in a riot of fall colors; gourds, squash, green beans and peppers of every variety tempted all. Children were playing in the magic hay bundle maze and some of the Solon group wandered out in the farmyard to view the goats, llamas, an ornamental pig and some very noisy geese. Kroul’s is a huge enterprise with an extraordinary selection of garden items plus a working farm. They were harvesting beans while the Solon group was there and every once in a while a huge piece of equipment would pass by.
After making selections, the group had some time before the Mt Vernon Farmer’s Market opened at 4 p.m., so the tour took a left just before the Ivanhoe Bridge driving up the road that leads to the Linn County Palisades-Dows Observatory complex. It was closed but the group was able to see three large domed observatories in the distance. The road travels along a high ridge, but on both sides the land drops off down into heavily timbered green valleys, displaying the spectrum of fall colors in the distance. The group was traveling with a horticulturist who identified each tree explaining the various colors different species produce in relationship to shorter days and cooler weather.
The tour proceeded into Mount Vernon on Highway 30, reaching the farmer’s market just in time to catch its opening– a cornucopia of pies, tarts, meats, breads, vegetables, salsas, coffees, shortbreads, jewelry and even dog treats. Leaving Mount Vernon through the residential area, the tour once again came upon the delightful fall colors displayed by the mature trees gracing the streets of many large, older homes. The back road to Lisbon provided a final palette of colors, including the White Ash, a native to Iowa that bursts into a tremendous wine-red splash, standing out among the orange sugar maples and the yellow of the green ash.
The final stop was a huge buffet at Gwen’s that rounded out the totally orchard day.