Bumper fruit crops, cider pressing, and community

The Naturalized Mid-American #74 - by Aaron Sawataky Kingsley

Published in the Goshen News, October 6, 2013

This past spring some of us may have noticed that our flowering trees were really loaded with blossoms. As spring moved into summer, many more of us began to suspect that we were seeing something pretty unusual in our fruit and nut bearing trees. And by now, early in fall, most of us have caught on that we are experiencing a real fruit bumper crop this year. Back in June the serviceberries were thicker and sweeter than I can remember. Since the end of July we’ve seen pear and apple tree limbs in parks and back yards bend and break under the weight of fruit. We’ve seen mulberries producing way past their typical mid-summer peak. Many oaks are masting acorns like nobody’s business, and walnut trees are a bit scary to walk beneath right now. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen hawthorn fruit as heavy as this year, and crabapples are studded with tiny red and orange fruit like an overdone Christmas tree. 

Greg Imbur and Ben Beyeler were among those who noticed that something special was going on. The more they looked around Goshen, and the more they talked with each other, and with other folks around town, the more they began to think that all this fruit posed a really interesting opportunity. And it seemed like an opportunity not to be wasted. In fact, the idea was simply, what can we do to not let all this good fruit go to waste?

It didn’t take long to recognize that one thing they could do would be to press apple cider. You can freeze it, cook with it, drink it now, experiment with fermenting, all ways of extending the life of the actual apples. So Ben and Greg gathered a meeting of interested people out of which was born Goshen’s “Low-Hanging Fruit” project. The main idea for the project is to connect people with neighborhood fruit; beyond that the idea is to help people use the fruit – by processing and storing it, giving it away – and to maybe begin learning how to better care for fruit producing trees. In the act of doing these things, the largest part of the idea is to help people get to know each other in our community.

So this is a wonderful idea. But who has the time and energy to make anything like this happen? Well, Ben and Greg found a way, and have inspired a lot of other folks as well. Several gleaning events – harvesting apples – were organized, especially in the Orchard neighborhood on the south edge of Goshen. These were followed by several pressing events, with a borrowed press, which involved people of all ages, and people who showed up with their own apples. As the fruit crop continued to expand, so did the enthusiasm.

Transition Goshen, a group dedicated to grassroots connecting of people and needs, became a natural facilitator for the growing project. Through Transition Goshen, connections were made to similar projects in South Bend and across the country, as well as with other individuals and businesses in the area which were supportive.

The background picture began to emerge: this is a place of plenty, it has always been a place of plenty, there will always be good fruit readily available for all of us to share. But how, Ben and Greg and others wondered, do we keep this picture in front of us, and help others to see it, too? So they got even more creative. Observing what some other communities had done, they got permission to use the City’s tree inventory to begin making a food tree map of Goshen, which includes more than just fruit – think nuts and sap, as well. Then they thought, why not have a community cider press, a Low-Hanging Fruit Press, to provide a focal point for work and play?

Well, the long and short of it is that a very successful crowdfunding campaign raised over $1000 to purchase a cider press. The interactive food tree map is now online, along with lots of other great details about the Low-Hanging Fruit project, at www.transitiongoshen.org .

Co-organizer Phil Metzler said that about 100 people have been involved in the project this summer and fall, gleaning, pressing, getting the word out, donating time and money. They’ve given produce to the Window, as well as enjoyed lots of it themselves.

“Its been a lot of fun,” says Phil. “There’s so much available here. We’re learning new ways to use it, and take care of it.”