By Katie Selbee
For us, starting a farm-based cidery began with two community-minded landowners on Pender Island who wanted to see something beneficial happening on their parcel of ALR land. Fortuitously, the land had a neglected heritage orchard on it; and also fortuitously, the landowners love craft cider—because we’d been dreaming about opening a land-based cidery together for a couple of years. The four of us came together last year to form Twin Island Cider, with a Year One goal of grafting and planting an additional acre of cider variety apple trees and, using a mix of apples from Gulf Island heritage orchards and Okanagan growers, to produce 7,000 liters of cider to start.
Matthew has a few years of experience in making cider from Pender Island apples as well as organic farming and food distribution in Montreal and Vancouver. My farming experience started with the UBC Farm’s sustainable farming practicum, followed by a year of running a mixed-veg CSA with farm friend Susheela Kundargi and an orchard internship at UBC Farm. We’ve been confident in our combined abilities from the start, but let’s be honest: we’re as green as the cambium layer of an apple tree. Our farming approach generally consists of weaving together our own experience with the (sometimes conflicting) advice of well-seasoned organic farmers, biodynamic growers, and local backyard orchardists—with a splash of permaculture.
April of Year One finds us in grafting mode, having spent late winter collecting cider variety scionwood from orchardists and from Pender heritage trees. This year we’re bench-grafting 1200 dwarfing and semi-dwarfing trees using the classic “tongue-and-whip” method. Prior to that, we finished pruning our existing trees in early March, and have begun tilling, cover-cropping and fencing the land where we’ll be planting new trees. We’re doing our best to navigate the inherited issues of fungal diseases, drainage issues, and a certain stand of fir trees that the past farmer planted as a nice privacy screen but which has, in the present day, become a condo-height wall of shade over the upper orchard.
In the eyes of the BC Liquor Control Board, our cidery is classified and regulated as a “winery.” One of the biggest ongoing challenges has been bringing our “winery”—an old boat and tractor shed with a root cellar—up to code, juggling the requirements of the BC Liquor Control Board, BC Assessment, the ALR, the CRD (Capital Regional District), the Islands Trust, and oh—let’s not forget Island Health Authority! It’s been a learning experience having to deal so intimately with policy from such varied corners, often scratching our heads over why so many of the regulations seem tailored to stop rather than foster farm-based cottage industry.
An additional challenge is that, unlike the CSA farming I previously did, we do not have revenue to put towards our incredibly high start-up costs or a guaranteed market; and because high-quality cider takes six to nine months to ferment and bottle-age, we won’t have a product on the shelves until early 2017—so it entails swallowing costs for a long time as well as being highly optimistic that if we build a cidery, the market will come, as some established cideries have been encouragingly assuring us.
Even at this early stage we’re seeing the high points, though, that make the worries worthwhile: the excited reactions and support from Pender community members, the opportunity to use many of backyard apples that otherwise fall to the ground, having the farming and cidermaking lifestyle we love, and contributing to the local agricultural scene—because local booze is on the same table as local food.
Find Twin Island Cider on Instagram: @twinislandcider
And online at: www.twinislandcider.com