Soergel’s Orchards offers seasonal events, year-round products

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TPN File Photo

Apples are dumped into a hopper in the first step of the process that turns apples to cider at Soergel’s Orchards.

By Grace Hemcher, Staff Writer

Soergel’s Orchards — a family-run farm and country store — lies about 30 minutes northwest of Oakland. Its classic red barn, as well as the rows of pumpkins and apple trees waiting to be picked, transport visitors to the countryside and away from the hustle of city life.

Soergel’s has sold apples for decades — remaining a popular destination for fall essentials. After a year of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re offering an array of events and products that change with the seasons once again.

Amy Soergel, one of nine family members working at Soergel’s Orchards, grew up in Pittsburgh’s North Hills and helped out with her family’s business since she was a child. After studying public health at Johns Hopkins University and getting her master’s in public health at Pitt, she returned home to the business.

Soergel started an organic, gluten-free and allergen-free store on the property 11 years ago. Managing Naturally Soergel’s is just one of her many roles in the family business. She also manages weekend festivals, helps with staffing and handles marketing and advertising for the orchard.

Soergel’s is open year-round, but its Fall Fest occurs every weekend in October starting at 10 a.m. It features vendors such as Boyd and Blair Vodka and Arsenal Cider, as well as tractor rides, apple picking, pumpkin picking and painting and sand art for kids.

With the exception of apple and pumpkin picking, Soergel said these vendors and events have made their return this year after being put on hold because of the pandemic.

“We were very, very limited on what we offered,” Soergel said. “We still wanted to have some kind of fall experience, but we didn’t feel comfortable providing it like we are this year.”

Erin Brennan, a junior rehabilitation science major, took a trip to Soergel’s Fall Fest on a whim with a group of friends after discovering the orchard online. Brennan said there was friendly staff and ample things to do.

“We wanted to do something cute and fall-like, just something wholesome. So I think someone just Googled pumpkin patches nearby,” Brennan said. “The people were also really nice, and there was a lot to do over there.”

Brennan said leaving campus and enjoying the activities at Soergel’s was a refreshing escape from the demands of school.

“It’s just being at school, everything kind of gets stressful and stuff on campus,” Brennan said. “Sometimes just doing little wholesome things like that is a relaxing way to, in a sense, be a kid again.”

But work at Soergel’s doesn’t stop after the fall season. They continue to bring in customers with different holiday-inspired events. Soergel said festivals and events happen year-round at the orchard, such as the Bunny Festival in April, Mother’s Day breakfast and brunches in May, the Strawberry Festival and Firefly Festival in June and Peach Festival in August.

Besides the events, products in the bakery also change seasonally. Soergel said as holidays change, the store will swap out many of its desserts, while keeping produce items generally the same.

Pumpkin-flavored muffins, rolls and cookies line the shelves in the fall months, but according to Soergel, these seasonal desserts get swapped for Christmas candies and cookies come November. Store staples such as produce, jellies and Soergel’s personal favorite, apple butter, stay the same year-round.

“I love our apple butter,” Soergel said. “No sugar, no spice additives, it is my favorite. It’s sweet and it’s just one of the unsung heroes.”

Kim Gary, the orchard’s produce manager for the past 22 years, said the changes in day-to-day work after the peak season are different for Soergel’s compared to other retail stores.

“Unlike other retail stores, winter is not our busy season,” Gary said. ”Right now we’re in our busiest season, and then after October we slow way down with the exception of the bakery. The bakery, of course, gets very busy selling pies and different products for Thanksgiving.”

As business begins to slow down, the amount of staff must be cut down as well. Gary said the fluctuating seasonal staff consists mostly of young students.

“There are people that are seasonal. A lot of the young students that do Fall Festival are very seasonal,” Gary said. “I do have some adults in the market that are seasonal too, and once the busy time is over, they take time off or cut back a couple of days.”

Soergel said the large number of young employees are generally for the fall, but they continue to recruit for the winter holiday season as well.

“We are able to hire, this year, about 50 some students. The winter gets quiet, but at least through the fall season, considering that we hire for six weeks, it’s a nice holiday gig,” Soergel said. “If you need a little extra cash, or if you want to work weekends, we’re always interested in students.” 

For Soergel, this ever-changing dynamic of seasonal work is what makes working at the orchard so enjoyable.

“I think the other part about loving my work is that seasonally, it’s always different,” Soergel said. “Every season has its own fun perks.”

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