Name: Rick Godsil Jr., Orchardist & Apple Expert
Occupation: Owner of Wagon Wheel Orchard, the World's Most Diverse Pick-Your-Own Orchard
Location: Johnson County, Kansas
Rick spent much of his childhood on several family farms in western Illinois during the 1970s and into the 1990s. His roots go back to Isaac Bowen Essex, pioneer trailblazer with orchards dating back to 1827. The original Wagon Wheel Trading Post is still owned by Rick's Grandma Greuel, now in her 90s.
With a rich family history and a lifelong desire to own his own orchard, Rick began planting trees on a farm in Western Johnson County, Kan., in 1999. One of the main reasons Godsil chose this site is that the California/Oregon Trail crosses the property with wagon ruts still visible. In 1999, Rick planted nine trees — one tree that he had been growing in a pot for years was an actual graft taken from a tree that Johnny Appleseed himself planted. What started as a backyard orchard blossomed into the world's most diverse pick-your-own orchard by 2010. Currently at almost 1,000 varieties of fruit available to the public to pick and taste at perfection, Wagon Wheel Orchard is a unique Kansas destination. When a customer once asked Izzy Godsil (then 7 years old) what kind of fruit her Daddy planted, she replied, “If it will grow in Kansas — we have it.”
Beginning in 2007, Rick and his children, Ricky, Izzy, Lily and Charley, began grafting and making available heirloom apple and pear tree varieties to the public. Their offerings focus on antique apples, especially those that were grown in the Midwest over 100 years ago. With a focus on preservation, Wagon Wheel Orchard has over 400 varieties that would be considered endangered, as they are offered by only one or two nurseries.
Rick has been an active blogger on the Wagon Wheel Orchard Blog, in addition to spending the last decade working on a comprehensive book that will be titled Midwest Apples containing descriptions of over 400 apples grown in the region before prohobition.
Other Fun Facts:
Wagon Wheel Orchard has become a popular destination for all of the Kansas City area schools to bring children out to experience a real working farm. With an emphasis on authenticity, there are no plans to add anything that would not have been present on a farm of the past.
Godsil has been putting himself at the forefront of advocating edible landscaping. With involvement in organizations like The Arbor Day Foundation, Boy Scouts of America and The Lawrence Fruit Tree Project, he has been educating the public on planting disease-resistant fruit trees. In Spring 2011, he launched a pilot program for nonprofits to use for fund-raising projects.
More Places to Find Rick on the Web:
The Wagon Wheel Orchard blog, where Rick gives up-to-date info on tree and scion wood availability. This is also where updates on the picking report and interesting excerpts from Rick's book, Midwest Apples, can be found.
Wagon Wheel Orchard, the official orchard website (please see the blog for current information).
This video interview done by the Kansas City Star with Rick provides info about an almost unknown fruit — the Paw Paw.
The following websites offer additional information about Wagon Wheel Orchard: