Victoria Valley: Owner reflects on the apple-growing life

Victoria Valley Orchard has been growing apples for 55 years, and offers 21 varieties.

Even in an age when locally produced food is highly valued, it can be difficult to find truly local produce. For decades, however, residents of the Shoreview area have come to Victoria Valley Orchard to get apples straight from the source. 

Don and Molly Papenheim moved in 1966 to a hillside lot on Victoria Avenue in Shoreview. There, they began an apple orchard which grew 

from hobby status to a commercial venture. Don died 15 years ago, but Molly has kept the business running since. She says, “So far so good. 

Have I made mistakes? Uh huh. But I haven’t totaled us out or anything!”

Of her husband, she says “He was a real man of the earth. Without him, you wouldn’t be seeing, you know, what you see here today.” 

Molly recently celebrated her 91st birthday, and doesn’t seem to want to be anywhere else. She says, “This whole orchard has been just a great pleasure to me. I love this place. I’m such a lucky lady to be living on it. I’m 91 years old, and I am still doing this doggone orchard. Would you believe that?” 

Some may not believe it. It could be because of an ill-informed post on the Nextdoor platform earlier this year, but there have apparently been rumors that the orchard is in trouble. Molly would like to make it clear that is not the case. 

“Let me set the record straight: I am NOT going out of business. I still have a manager and five employees.” She asserts she will continue “as long as I have life and breath!” 

She is committed to making it work, and seems to have the support of the neighborhood. In fact, some of her neighbors are her employees. This is not lost on her. “I have the goodwill of all of my neighbors around here — that’s really nice to know.”

The wider community has also supported Victoria Valley, including the city of Shoreview itself. Papenheim is quick to express her gratitude: “The city of Shoreview has been so good to me. I compliment them; they’re very good to me. And I know the mayor, Sandy Martin. She’s a great gal and an apple customer. I always like to see her come.” 

Community support may be more important to the orchard this year, in that 2021 has been a tough year for the apple business. And that’s not just another byproduct of the drought. 

“This year we don’t even have 40% of a crop, and that’s not only here,” Molly says, explaining that other apple growers have had similar hardships. “We had something bad happen to us weatherwise. I think it was bad temperatures in the spring. It’s been a rough year.”

Still, they’re making it work, and she says the man who thins the apples helped maximize this year’s yield. “This is not the greatest crop we’ve ever had. But what is nice is the guy who does my thinning did a very good job of it, and so the apples are pretty sizable.”

Victoria Valley has 21 varieties of apples for baking, cooking or eating fresh. Which varities are best sellers? Papenheim says, “Haralson is just a huge seller. And Honeycrisp; if you haven’t got Honeycrisp, I guess you haven’t got anything. They all want Honeycrisp — and SweeTango.”

Those three varieties were in season this last week. And while Victoria Valley is not a pick-your-own operation, customers have the opportunity to choose which apples they like and bag them up themselves. Papenheim says that has been popular: “They package their own apples. You can bring your own container if you want to, and people love bagging their own apples.”

They also sell apple donuts, pies made by Emma Krumbees, and locally-produced honey. 

The orchard began its season this year on Sept. 10. It is open Thursdays through Sundays, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

 

Roy Heilman is a contributing writer for Press Publications. He can be reached at news@presspubs.com or 651-407-1200.

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