“People like things sweet.”

That’s the secret behind the recipe for apple cider at Sibley Orchards and Cider Mill, as described by Rita Farrell.

“People like things sweet.”

That’s the secret behind the recipe for apple cider at Sibley Orchards and Cider Mill, as described by Rita Farrell.

So it’s one part Jonathans and one part red or yellow delicious, for the sweetness.

Still, although cider might be the family business’s calling card, running the orchard and store requires doing a hundred different things, all leading to October, the busiest month of the year.

Rita and Pat Farrell have owned the business for about 20 years, and the orchard has been around since the ’50s. It sits not far from the Missouri River, where ancient glaciers retreated and left soil particularly well suited to growing apples.

But it takes more than apples.

On a cool, cloudy October morning, Rita Farrell hosts a group of pre-schoolers and parents.

First, the 4-year-olds learn how to press cider. Apples go in the top, and juice comes out at the bottom. Each child takes a turn, and Farrell encourages them with “Perfect. Good job!” and “Turn that crank. Lots of muscles.” (The youngsters also learn the difference between cider and juice. Cider is the straight stuff. By law, juice can be up to half water.)

As the children crowd around to see the product of their effort, she tells them, “You guys did that. You ground them all up, and then you squeezed them.”

Next it’s time for pumpkins. Farrell tells the kids that pumpkins are part of the squash family (but that the stuff in a can at the store really is squash). The youngster and parents are loaded into bright orange wagons and sit on hay bales as Farrell fires up a tractor and drives them to the pumpkin patch. Each 4-year-old gets to select and take home a pumpkin a little bigger than a softball. The pre-school teacher snaps photos for memories and scrapbooks.

Apples and cider. Day trips for pre-schoolers. Blueberries, peaches and pumpkins. Weddings. A store with dozens of types of jams and preserves. It’s all part of the business.

“People like an activity. They like doing something rather than buying something,” Farrell says.

The fruit stand has couple of things you’re not likely to find at the grocery store. One is a variety of products that includes the Sibley Orchards brand of pumpkin butter, apple butter, peach butter, blackberry spread, strawberry-rhubarb preserves, peach amaretto preserves, cherry-raspberry preserves and gooseberry preserves. There are also chestnuts, candles, Indian corn and even a selection of honey from Higginsville.

“You try to get some flavors you don’t run up against (elsewhere),” she said.

The other thing is the emphasis on locally grown and made products, which helps tap into the movement to help the environment by eating as many locally grown foods as possible.

“Anything in the fruit stand that we don’t grow, we buy it locally,” she said.

And people do come in for a specific item, whether it’s tomato preserves or plum butter.

“It’s fun to have them all excited when they find it,” she said.

Even in the off months, the Farrells are busy. She’s involved with the Missouri State Horticultural Society, and he’s on the Extension Service Council in Jackson County. There’s “a lot of groundwork, a lot of scheduling, a lot of phone calls” to tend to, Rita says.

The stand is open every day from July 1 to Nov. 1 and then a couple of weekends into November. Customers start showing up when peaches, blueberries and blackberries become available in the summer.

“You have passionate peach people. You have passionate berry people,” Farrell said.

It all builds to October, when the feel and smell of fall are in the air.

“So in the last three weeks, everything is kind of going all the time,” Rita said.

It’s been an odd year. Spring weather hurt pollination, summer and fall have been cool and wet. Still, she says, things have been OK – and loyal customers come out.

“If you’ve learned what tastes good,” Rita says, “you’ll come back and get it.”

Sibley Orchards is just east of Sibley on Buckner-Tarsney Road, also called Route BB. It’s at a 90-degree curve in the road.

It’s about 20 minutes from Independence. Go east on U.S. 24 to Buckner and then turn left (north) on Buckner-Tarsney for one and a half miles.

It’s about 20 minutes from Blue Springs. Go east on Interstate 70 to Grain Valley, then north on Buckner-Tarsney Road, through Buckner, and then another one and a half miles.

Recipes and activities are at www.sibleyorchards.com/