The Appel family was named Farm Family of the Year for Washington County, Ark. Contributed Photo.
Contributed Photo

The Appel family was named Farm Family of the Year for Washington County, Ark. 

SPRINGDALE, ARK. – “Surprised, excited and shocked” that is how Ashley and Travis Appel describe the reaction that accompanied the news that Appel Farms had been nominated for, and selected as, the Washington County Farm Family of the Year for 2023. 

“That award is normally given to larger farms; 1,000-acre cattle and poultry farms,” Travis said, “You always see this stuff in the paper, but it is always large-scale farms, we think it is pretty cool that a small produce farm can be acknowledged.”

The Appels and their boys Griffin (12), Owen (9) and Evan (7) grow a variety of produce and pasture-raised pork they sell from their farm stand. 

“It is reassuring to know, and it provides a bit of motivation to us as well that we have worked hard, and others have seen it,” Ashley said. “We were so proud that our kids were acknowledged too because they have been out here since they were babies, they work hard and even though some days they hate it they are learning how to work, it is setting them apart, they are also learning some good life lessons.”

Becoming farmers was not the plan for the Appel family. 

“Travis was a Marine and had done a couple of deployments, we were stationed in southern California. When his tour was up, we moved back to Arkansas, that was in 2012,” Ashley explained.

Travis went back to school at the University of Arkansas when they returned, and was pursuing a degree in turf management but soon switched his major to horticulture. He did an internship with another farmer and in his final year at the U of A, and planted a 1-acre field of strawberries. Later that fall, he planted the first pumpkin patch. With that success, the fire was lit to pursue farming on a larger scale. 

The farm has a little over 10 acres in production currently and includes a farm stand in the house that Travis grew up in. They grow strawberries, pumpkins and summer vegetables, such as tomatoes, melons, okra and squash. They have a commercial kitchen in the farm stand and produce as many value added products as possible, including salsa, zucchini take-and-bake and freezer jams.

They have crossbred Meishan, Gloucestershire Old Spots and Mangalista. Contributed Photo.
Contributed Photo

“The produce won’t stay good forever and when it is getting to the end of it, you’ve got to do something with it,” Ashley stated. “Since we have the all the ingredients and we have a commercial kitchen, we get creative based on what we have on hand. We are still growing, and we are still figuring it all out.” 

For the first few years they sold their produce at local farmers markets, but for the past three years they have sold directly from their farm store. The change to selling on-site allows them to be open a few hours every day and not to move the produce multiple times, decreasing damage to the product. It also lets them have a more diverse selection of products. Strawberries, pumpkins and tomatoes are the biggest sellers. This past year they grew 4,000 to 5,000 tomato plants and approximately 20 distinct types of pumpkins. 

Growing produce is not the only thing the Appels cultivate. They diligently work to create and nurture relationships with their customers and within the community. 

Travis, as a veteran, feels it was a seamless transition from the military to farming, he says “you go from giving so much of yourself, sacrificing your time and serving your country to serving your community and it is just as rewarding.”  

They are advocates of giving back to the community, paying it forward, and they are involved with several programs to do just that.

The family is active in Arkansas Grown, Homegrown by Heroes and Armed to Farm. Homegrown by Heroes and Armed to Farm are veteran-exclusive programs.  Homegrown By Heroes is a branding program that enables farmer veterans to market their local agricultural products by labeling them as veteran produced.

The Appels and their boys Griffin (12), Owen (9) and Evan (7) grow a variety of produce and pasture-raised pork they sell from their farm stand. Contributed Photo.
Contributed Photo

Armed to Farm aims to train veterans to operate sustainable crop and livestock enterprises, by creating a network of veterans and their families who are starting careers in sustainable agriculture. It provides technical assistance to the participants as they start and improve their farming operations. Travis attended Armed to Farm while he was at the University of Arkansas, and Appel Farms now host regular farm tours for the organization and the national board. 

The family participates in the Center for Arkansas Farms and Food (CAFF), and Appel Farms serves as a mentoring farm. They often have apprenticeships available for participants of the program. 

They have crossbred Meishan, Gloucestershire Old Spots and Mangalista. These combinations allow the best traits of each breed to be passed to the offspring, producing a hardier, faster maturing hog that converts into a quality meat product. The hogs are pasture browsed and get supplemental nutrition from the discarded produce. Whole and half hogs are available for purchase. The addition of hogs has allowed the farm to diversify, they have a few head of cattle that may be offered in the future. 

The Appels also expressed interest in working with local farms to provide additional products in their farm store. 

“We want to be able to work with and support other local farms” said Ashley “our location is very convenient, we don’t look at this as a competition because there is no way any of us independently could supply enough to feed Northwest Arkansas, we need to just support each other and help each other out. We are open every day so it would be a good place for other farmers to go with their products throughout the week because this stuff does not just grow on the weekend.”


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