Curtis Orchard, Champaign County
Curtis Orchard is part of an Illinois centennial farm founded when the Curtis family settled just southwest of the city of Champaign in 1873. For most of its history the farm sustained the Curtis family through corn, soybeans and hogs, but by 1956, the year Paul married Joyce Day of Bement, the acreage owned by Paul Curtis and his father Eugene had become too small to support two families.
In 1977, Paul and Joyce took the first small step by planting 700 trees on three acres.
The trees looked like sticks in the ground, and didn’t require much care that first year, so Paul and Joyce added another 1700 trees the following year. In the summer of 1980, Paul and Joyce nurtured their first small crop of apples, and looked forward to opening to the public for the first time. They had converted a small outbuilding into a makeshift store. Then one day a hail storm swept through and damaged much of the crop. Paul and Joyce surveyed the damage and realized they had never considered that not every apple would be sold as a number one – even in a good year. Now they were looking at a crop in which at least two thirds of the apples were seconds at best. Paul still has a saying from that year,
“When life gives you lemons you make lemonade, but when life gives you hail damaged apples you make apple cider.”
He went out and bought a small cider press that year and started making apple cider. It has been an award-winning Curtis Orchard favorite ever since.
Another event changed the family in 1980. The Curtis’ daughter Debbie met a young man, Randy Graham. He had some Ag experience and started helping at the farm. They married in 1981, and joined the business after Randy graduated from the University of Illinois in 1983, becoming co-owners in 1994.
The tradition continues! The Curtis’ son Chris joined the orchard over ten years ago, and recently, two of the Graham’s five children and their spouses joined the business full-time. As a fresh energetic team paired with experience they continue what Paul and Joyce Curtis began nearly forty years ago.