Core competency: Law student leads apple business while finishing degree

Nov. 3, 2011

by Aimee Katz

Andy Ferguson is not your common student.

Ferguson, a third-year student in the University of Wisconsin Law School, works full-time with his family business in addition to completing his law degree.

Andy Ferguson manages to juggle his law studies with helping to lead his family’s orchard business in western Wisconsin.

Photo: Andi Stempniak/Eau Claire Leader Telegram

Ten years ago, Ferguson traveled to the La Crosse area with his family to visit colleges for his older sister. They came upon an advertisement for an apple orchard, paid a visit the following day, and instantly fell in love.

Less than a year later, the Fergusons packed up and moved from their home in sunny southern California to become Wisconsin business owners and apple growers.

Learning the process of apple growing took several years, but Ferguson said the family's true vision has come to fruition: to provide a safe, clean, fun and authentic "farm" experience for families who may not get to experience the countryside otherwise.

Since establishing Ferguson's Orchards, the family operation has grown to two commercial orchards with more than 30,000 trees in 37 varieties and three country retail stores. The attractions include picking your own apples, wagon rides, corn mazes, haunted houses and other fall activities for families.

On any given day Ferguson may be in class or making phone calls to the farm to manage shipments or reading law books on a tractor. He is content, however, living two full-time lives in different parts of the state.

"Multi-tasking, efficiency, caffeine and the knowledge that it is a seasonal business are what get me through the day," he says. He does miss the football season, as Saturdays are busy at the orchard. Yet, he says: "The satisfaction of running a successful business while a full-time law student is definitely worth the sacrifice."

Leading business expansion and real estate acquisition for his family's orchard overlaps with studying law, says Ferguson. "From learning the intricacies of business formation to purchasing real estate, there are few classes that don't have at least some relation to the business."

Ferguson attributes his ability to think quickly on his feet and to handle unexpected situations to his UW education.

By the nature of the business, Ferguson's Orchards has a strong presence in the community. In developing their business, the Fergusons use the term "agri-entertainment" to concentrate on retail sales and develop their business as a local attraction for families.

Ferguson's Orchards teaches thousands of children annually about apple production through daily field trips. Additionally, the orchard hosts several community events during the fall, such as festivals and marathons.

"We provide an affordable place for families to spend time together and reconnect with nature," Ferguson says. "Families are moving toward things to do to still be together and save money in the process."

After he graduates, Ferguson plans to practice law in western Wisconsin while playing an integral role in the expansion of Ferguson's Orchards. He said working for the family business has intrigued him; he is interested in helping other small businesses form and grow in the future.

"Everyone tells cautionary stories about working with their families, but I love it," he said. "Among my family members in the business, each has a very different role, fostering a 'partner' feeling."

Ferguson is committed to the apple business and providing healthy family activities. A family-oriented man himself, he wants to give others a way to come together.

"Experiences at the orchard can translate into healthier lifestyles," he says. "This type of family entertainment brings everyone together to connect outdoors."