Apple Festival testimony to Johnny Appleseed, preserving Ohio’s trees

LIMA — Between 6,000 to 8,000 people turn out for the Johnny Appleseed Metropolitan Park District’s Apple Festival, which has been held every even year (except for 2020 due to COVID-19) since the 1970s.

The two-day event will be held this Saturday, Sept. 17 and Sunday, Sept. 18 between noon to 6 p.m. and regularly draws residents from multiple counties, all hungry for locally produced apple products not found in area grocery stores. JAMPD operates in Allen County and Auglaize County (where Deep Cut and Ft. Amanda are located), but also Putnam, Hardin and Van Wert Counties.

The festival’s origins tie it neatly into the mission of the park service for several reasons.

The park district’s mandate is to preserve history and natural areas. The move this year to Lauer Farm, done at the request of the new director to highlight this park property, accomplishes both of these objectives.

Looking back in history, before Ohio’s settlers arrived, much of what is today Ohio existed as a natural forest. The land that became the state of Ohio was part of the Northwest Territory when it was established in 1787. As pioneers forged their way here, residents harvested the timber for their own use to build homes and to clear the land to make way for crops. As they did so, they profited from lumber that was shipped eastward via the Miami and Erie Canal through Delphos. Cropland competed with forested land — and lost.

John Chapman (“Johnny Appleseed”) who was born on the cusp of these two revolutions, political and natural, made the decision while living through this change to travel around Ohio and other states planting apple orchards that may have given him some legal claim to land ownership. Lauer Farm dates to the 1830s, before Chapman died in 1845.

The park district which bears his name does have a apple orchard that dates back to 1982. However, the park’s orchard is simply not able to produce the volume of apples needed to satiate the thousands of visitors during its annual festival. (In 2018, the festival sold 100 gallons of apple cider). Today, the park relies on locally sourced and pressed apples for its sale of apples, cider and apple butter, and focuses on planting non-crop-yielding indigenous tree species.

The event has gained some celebrity in past decades, when volunteers put together an apple appetizer cookbook, for those interested in learning how to go beyond apple pies, apple fritters, applesauce and apple cider.

Food is a big motivator, and there will be plenty of fair food-type trucks on hand, but the farm-based traditional activities draw many out of a sense of nostalgia, love of history and simple curiosity.

Lauer Farm appropriately captures the look and feel of early settler farm life, and the yearly apple festival fits more broadly into the wider historic theme of “fall harvest” as being “a time of plenty,” which was cause for celebration.

Visitors to the festival can experience old-time homemade ice cream by Lugibihl as well as “sugar corn” — freshly popped corn lightly salted and sprinkled with white powered sugar — that has been a festival favorite for the past 40 years. Old-fashioned activities involving pumpkin painting, tractor hayrides, pony rides and a giant straw pyramid to play on provide urban children the opportunity to experience life in the “country.”

“They run and jump and it’s such a simple pleasure for kids,” said Chris Fetzer, the festival’s volunteer coordinator.

Artisans are on-hand to demonstrate traditional arts and crafts like the Lima Area Wood Carvers and the Allen County Master Gardeners who set up a useful plants display comprised of herbs and medicinal plants. The Hog Creek Spinners and Weavers will be joined by quilters and hook rug makers located in Laurel Farm’s barn and historic farmhouse.

As summer has now passed and children have returned to school, the event is also a fun way for children to participate in fun, hands-on activities to learn about nature. The park service follows-up later with a similar event that teaches mid-1800s-era pioneer farming skills.

To find upcoming events, visit

Admission is free to explore the activities and listen to live musical performances by Shifferly Road and folk singer Steve Madewell and Friends Band.

Additional food is available for purchase, including hamburgers, pulled pork, ribs, tenderloin, snow cones, mini-donuts, cotton candy and much more.

Reach Shannon Bohle at 567-242-0399, by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @Bohle_LimaNews.

Shannon Bohle
Shannon Bohle covers entertainment at The Lima News. After growing up in Shawnee Township, she earned her BA at Miami University, MLIS from Kent State University, MA from Johns Hopkins University-Baltimore and pursued a Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge. Bohle assisted with the publication of nine books and has written for National Geographic, Nature, NASA, Astronomy & Geophysics and Bloomsbury Press. Her public speaking venues included the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, the Smithsonian and UC-Berkeley, and her awards include The National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest and a DoD competition in artificial intelligence. Reach her at [email protected] or 567-242-0399.