Hoch Orchard & Gardens enters the initial stage of farm transition

Winners of a contest to rehome livestock on the La Crescent farm will be announced May 19.

Harry and Jackie Hoch, owners of Hoch Orchard and Gardens in La Crescent, Minnesota.
Contributed / Hoch Orchard and Gardens

LA CRESCENT, Minn. — Harry and Jackie Hoch have operated a diversified fruit operation for over 35 years, and are now trying to figure out their exit strategy.

The couple are owners of Hoch Orchard & Gardens, a 35-acre farm in the apple capital of Minnesota — La Crescent, along the Mississippi River uniquely located on three scenic byways in the driftless region. The farm has over 10,000 fruit trees with more than 50 varieties of apples as well as cherries, apricots, plums, strawberries and raspberries, along with a mix of vegetables and livestock.

The apples from Hoch Orchard & Gardens are used to make hard cider that’s distilled at La Crosse Distilling Company just across the border in Wisconsin. Turisimo Winery and Fermentations in La Crosse uses the farm's apple juice to create their hard ciders that are available in cans at Pearl Street Brewery in La Crosse, along with Keepsake Cidery in Dundas, Minnesota, which collaborates with the farm on several dry ciders.

"Over the last couple years, we've been downsizing as we've been thinking about how we move forward in life," Jackie Hoch said.

According to the Farmland Access Hub — a partnership of 40-plus organizations in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa — more than half of American farmers will reach retirement age in the next 10 years, and many of them don’t have family members who will take over their farms. And the high cost and lack of access to farmland makes it challenging for young and beginning farmers to enter the profession.


Hoch Orchard & Gardens is working with the Farmland Access Hub and Renewing the Countryside to come up with a way to make their transition happen.

“We work with many beginning and emerging farmers who struggle to access land,” said Jan Joannides, executive director at Renewing the Countryside. “Together with the Hochs and American Farmland Trust, we are creating an innovative, pathway for this transition — a pathway that will enable new farmers to affordably purchase the farm. These creative solutions are essential if want to continue to have a farming community that includes farmers producing local foods, stewarding the land and contributing to their communities.”

Rehoming the animals

Harry and Jackie are now looking to reduce livestock on their farm through a unique contest that will help give beginning farmers an advantage while finding a new home for their animals.

"We don't have very many animals left on the farm, and we're hoping to find new, young farmers who want an opportunity," Hoch said. "And we're hoping to remove some of the burden of the cost for them, so that they can get into farming, whether it's our animals on a different farm, or actually looking for someone to come to our farm and work the area that Harry and I have had."

Hoch orchard pigs.jpeg
Pigs at Hoch Orchard and Gardens in La Crescent, Minnesota.
Contributed / Hoch Orchard and Gardens

Renewing the Countryside, Marbleseed, the Land Stewardship Project, Sustainable Farming Association and Practical Farmers of Iowa are working with the Hochs as organizers of a regional contest to rehome three pastured pigs (two sows and a boar) and 12 sheep (11 ewes and one ram) as part of the farm’s transition.

"The boar is a purebred Gloucestershire Old Spot, and one of the sows is as well," Hoch said. "For the sheep, they are hair sheep, and so they're Katahdin and Dorper."

From now through May 15, candidates with relevant livestock knowledge, experience and infrastructure can apply for the contest. Hoch said they purposefully asked not to be part of the selection process, so she wasn't sure if there were any candidates yet.


Reality of transitioning

Despite working over the past couple of years to do so, Hoch said the work to transition their farm is still in the beginning stage.

"I think that our current agricultural system makes the type of farming that we're doing a little bit more difficult to transition," she said. "And so what we're trying to do is remove some of the challenges with that by making it a little bit easier for people to get in if they want to."

Hoch said they've talked to a couple of different people and there's "definitely some interest," but there's also the difficulty of making it work financially.

"Can you make a living, and all of those things that go along with farming in kind of a small to medium sized farm," she said.

Harry's father farmed the land before them as a hobby farm, said Hoch, and Harry had it in his head before it came to fruition that he waned to create a diversified fruit operation.

"We've been on the farm for over 35 years, so we've been putting equity and sweat equity into it to build a system," Hoch said. "It came through his family, owning the land, and then Harry developing the system."

She believes working with American Farmland Trust and Renewing the Countryside, which successfully oversaw the transition of Singing Hills Dairy last year, is the right way for them to go at this point. There's hope for them close by, at a nearby dairy farm that's successfully transitioned from one couple to a different one.

"They worked together and did share the milking operation, and that seems to be going relatively smooth but they had to work together for quite a few years," Hoch said. "What Harry and I keep telling people is right now everything's on the table. We're willing to step completely away. We're willing to consult for a while, or we're willing to work with people for a while, but what we need to do is reduce what we're doing."


To apply or learn more about the livestock contest, visit .

Noah Fish is a multimedia journalist who creates print, online and TV content for Agweek. He covers a wide range of farmers and agribusinesses throughout Minnesota and surrounding states. He can be reached at

He reports out of Rochester, MN, where he lives with his wife, Kara, and their polite cat, Zena. He grew up in La Crosse, WI, and enjoys the talent from his home state like the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers and Grammy award-winning musicians Justin Vernon and Al Jarreau.
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