Benji Deal is the family orchard’s hard cider maker. JEFFERSON HERALD FILE PHOTO

Deal’s bites into more than apples

Orchard looks to ag tourism


LAKE PANORAMA — The apple is still the apple of Jerald Deal’s eye.

But there’s more to this iconic Greene County orchard west of Jefferson than pies and cider.

“More and more, people are starting to look for an experience,” said Benji Deal, a member of the family who has operated Deal’s for 99 years — and its hard cider maker.

That means, among other things, a pumpkin cannon, a fun-lover’s device that fires the Halloween-time vegetables for sport.

“It shoots probably a good quarter mile,” said Jerald Deal, the patriarch of the orchard operations.

The Deals spoke Jan. 28 at the Midwest Partnership economic development annual dinner at the Lake Panorama National Conference Center in Panora. The organization supports progress in Adair, Audubon, Greene and Guthrie counties.

In 1917, the Deals planted 16 acres in apple trees. Jerald Deal, the youngest of three children, and only son of Forrest and Edna, joined in partnership with his father in 1974.

Now, his wife, Cindy, and their sons Chris and Benji are involved in the family project.

Deal’s today has 46 acres of apples, 10 acres of sweet corn, 10 acres of pumpkins and 4 acres of Christmas trees.

About five years ago, Deal’s got involved in producing hard cider. In 2015, the business distilled 1,200 gallons for sale in many stores in the region, including Hy-Vee and Fareway.

“I’m excited about the potential for hard-cider growth,” Benji Deal said.

Chris Deal talked about the orchard’s incorporation of a concept known as ag tourism.

“The game has changed a little bit,” Chris Deal said.

The business added a concessions barn in 2013, and in the fall, there are plenty of games and attractions for the family, including “wiggle” cars, slides, some show farm animals, and an entertainment venue available for rent that holds about 60 people. There’s a new commercial kitchen and even a doughnut maker that churns out delicious apple delights.

In coming years, Deal’s may expand the offerings at the concessions barn and perhaps add pedal go-karts and even a pedestrian tunnel.

One thing’s for certain: this fourth-generation business doesn’t just sit around waiting for apples to ripen.

“It’s a special thing to be able to take pride in that,” Chris Deal said.

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