In 1915 Louis Wells came to the Grand Rapids area to answer a help wanted notice for a farm hand. A student at Michigan Agricultural College, Louis was looking to put his education to practical use. Miriam Roberts’ father Will was a prosperous farmer and fruit grower. According to Miriam it was love at first sight. The two married and moved to southern Michigan where Louis earned a living as a school teacher after serving in the army during WW1. However, farming was in their blood and at the urging of Will the young couple returned to the River Bend neighborhood in 1919. The Wells family purchased River Bend farm from a Roberts’ cousin and an adjoining farm, creating River Bend Farms.
Alvan, the oldest of the three Wells children, learned from his father not to be afraid to be innovative and progressive in their farming practices. One of the first in the area to build a cold storage Louis and Alvan were able to store fruit for neighboring growers. During the Great Depression the Wells family made ends meet by pedaling apples in Grand Rapids. It became clear to Louis that apple trees were the way of the future and apples soon became the bread and butter for River Bend Farms.
Alvan met and married Barbara Oberly, a girl from the neighborhood, in 1950. With a mutual love of the farm and each other, Alvan and Barbara set out to create a lasting legacy for their growing family. During the sixties and seventies Alvan increased the home farm by purchasing a neighboring farm, as well as land northwest of the home farm. With five girls and four boys the Wells family maintained several large vegetable gardens, raised beef cattle and increased the fruit tree acreage and expanded the wholesale and retail apple business. This was when Alvan started using Wells Orchards as the name that personified quality, honesty, and freshness.
During the seventies and eighties Wells Orchards’ apples, peaches, and pears could be found in many local grocery stores as well as at the home farm market. This was the decade that also brought Alvan and Barbara’s three oldest sons into the business. Kurt, Tom, and Scott began to take over more of the responsibilities of the business, including adding another orchard about three miles from the home farm. The three brothers increased the apple acreage with the planting of dwarf trees and also added plums and sweet cherries to the variety of fruit that could be found at Wells Orchards. In addition they built two controlled atmosphere rooms to increase long term storage.
As small, privately owned, grocery stores were sold to large grocery chains, Wells Orchards had to change business tactics. While a retail market was always at the home farm it was soon clear that increasing that area of the business was key in maintaining the farm’s growth and success.
The Wells Orchards farm market of today is still a family affair with the fourth and fifth generations learning and contributing to the legacy that Louis and Miriam and Alvan and Barbara Wells built.