Meet Mike Manogue aka “Mr. Tippy Top”. I met him at the farmer’s market about a year ago. He is quite possibly the most ebullient, passionate, and genuinely happy person I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. I decided that we should become friends so that I may steal his secret to happiness. Last weekend I finally scored an invite to his place. An invitation to the Tippy Top Orchard is reserved only to a select group of people you know. Well, that’s what I’d like to believe anyway :). The orchard is tucked away in the hills outside of Dodgeville. On our way we saw people busy with harvest, got a bit sick driving on the up and down and windy roads, and Keith almost killed his second raccoon this year fattened up from the summer’s abundance. As we pulled up the gravel road, Mike rode his bicycle towards us with arms stretched to his sides, gave us a big smile, and a boisterous hello.
A Tippy Top Orchard Welcome
It was twenty years ago when Mike started his dream of having a fruit orchard. He has planted and nurtured each one of the over 350 pear and apple trees, all of which are grown organically (non-certified). It is not uncommon to hear loud exclamations at the market once they have a bite of Tippy Top Orchard fruit. He does have the best apples and pears I’ve ever tasted. They are extremely flavorful and juicy. Keith who doesn’t normally eat fruit cannot get enough of the D’Anjou pears. My favorite is the Mutsu apple and the Asian pear.
To begin the tour Mike showed us how to properly pick an apple. Do you know how to? In my mind I was thinking of course, who doesn’t know how to pick an apple? I proceeded to grab one and twisted it. That’s the wrong way. I thought I saw Mike cringe a little. To pick an apple properly, you must hold the apple firmly from the bottom then slowly raise it until it pops off the little stem. The stem is very important because that’s where next years bud will come from. Hence twisting an apple off a tree can damage next years bud which mean less fruit. Things went a little smoother after that. We walk around and sampled several varieties (Mutsu, Fuji, Jonagold, and others). After that we went over to the pear trees. I must admit that I secretly hoped to see a partridge nestled in one of the pear trees :). No luck though. We did however get to pick and eat some Asian pears.
Asian Pear Jewels (look at the right hand side of the pic)
As I mentioned earlier, Tippy Top’s fruit are grown organically which means it is even more labor intensive than at standard fruit orchards. As you can see below the fruits don’t look as “perfect” as the ones you’d see at the produce section of your local grocery store. The spots and blemishes might not meet the ideal that we’re taught fruit is supposed to look like but they don’t affect the flavor. They are simply a natural side effect of the organic method.
Seeing what he’s accomplished for the past twenty years in his land was incredible. Besides taking care of the orchard Mike also grows a lot of vegetables, herbs, and berries. Did I mention he also built his house on the hill? As if the man isn’t busy enough we found out that he does cross country ski racing all over the world! So what’s his secret to happiness? Simplicity. It is doing the things you truly care about, being in tune with nature, and doing away with the rest. People said he was a bit crazy, well a lot crazy when he started looking for land in the area 20 years ago to make his dream come true but I think one needs that to make something really worthwhile. Thank you Mike for being a living example of what many try for so many years to figure out. Do what you love.
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