Your Own Backyard: City Fruit Cider

In 2014, City Fruit harvested nearly 28,000 lbs of fruit. Every year, our harvest grows. We expand to new communities, we have more hands on deck, and we get to work with amazing organizations like Pike Market Food Bank, Ballard Food Bank, Rainier Valley Food Bank, and more. However, growing fruit in the city is a mixed bag. Unfortunately, due to pests, bruises, tartness, and other natural factors, only about 68% of the fruit we harvested in 2014 actually got eaten. Inedible fruit — and we’re talking tons of it — wound up in the compost, to be cycled back into the soil. Not that there’s anything wrong with composing, but City Fruit was eager to find a creative avenue to repurpose imperfect fruit.

The very next year, a partnership was brewing with Seattle Cider Company.

Natalie Place, Senior Manager of Programs & Education at City Fruit, fondly reflects on her first time delivering apples at Seattle Cider Company, at the inception of the partnership.

“They just wheel out this two-ton crate, and we drop off apples,” Natalie describes. Anyone from City Fruit can bring apples, at anytime. “So you have lots of different harvesters and volunteers bringing apples at all hours of the day.” A modge podge of local fruit — over 40 different varieties of apples — from all corners of the city, that was turned down by the food banks because of damage, unpalatability, or what have you… how many commercial brewing operations would take that notion and say, “let’s make a cider out of that?”

At least one would. And City Fruit will be forever grateful for the audacity that led to the birth of our cider. Caity Rock, Communications & Social Media Coordinator at Seattle Cider Company, comments that this has been an easy and fulfilling partnership from the get-go. “Thinking about the amount of fruit that doesn’t go to waste…” Caity and the other folks at Seattle Cider are to thank for a marked decrease in the amount of fruit we compost each year. With the inception of City Fruit cider, a full 91% of our harvest now gets put to good use. (That was 91% of over 36,000 lbs of fruit in 2016!)

Bobby Naughton, Lead Cider Maker, adds: “The idea of making something so localized while diverting so much waste (literally tons and tons of it) is fantastic, but then have to have it come out tasting SO GOOD. Ah, I love it.”  The folks at Seattle Cider Company are serious about reducing food waste — and it doesn’t end with the apples that go into their cider. The apple pulp (a byproduct leftover once the juice is pressed) makes perfect fodder for livestock. Seattle Cider Company and Two Beers Brewing send all of their spent grain and apple pulp to a pig and cow farm, with a little bit going to The Seattle Barkery for their gourmet dog treats.

“Being involved with our community is one of the big driving factors for us,” says Caity. “And boldness — trying something new.” Few words could better describe the essence of City Fruit Cider. “It’s an obscure idea — but it worked! And we’re excited to keep pushing it forward,” Caity says.

Since the partnership was born, many of the Seattle Cider Staff have engaged with City Fruit on multiple levels, getting their hands dirty at volunteer work parties, lending time to the harvest, not to mention becoming dear friends. But one member of the team was digging in with City Fruit even before the inception of City Fruit Cider.

Bobby, the Lead Cider Maker at Seattle Cider Company, went through the Master Fruit Tree Steward program two years ago. Bobby says: “I was really enjoying making cider, but I knew very little about the production of fruit, and that seemed like a kind of ridiculous gap in experience and knowledge.”

Bobby first dipped his toes into the world of fruit tree care at a work party in Piper’s Orchard, thinning apples and protecting them with wax bags (an early version of Save Seattle’s Apples). Bobby recalls of this first day: “there was some lovely spring sunshine, somebody sat on a bench playing the blues while we worked, I met Natalie and Barb, and ultimately I ended up on your newsletter list….That’s where I heard of the master fruit tree steward program, and thought ‘This is where I shall learn!’”

Over the course of the program, Bobby learned how to be a masterful steward of fruit trees (with flying colors), and also discovered a network of tree-minded individuals, eager to share wisdom and enthusiasm for the cultivation of fruit.

“I feel the MFTS classes and volunteer work were a huge gateway to a community I’m really happy to have found,” Bobby says, adding: “It seems in the world of fruit, everyone has their favorite couple of things that they’ve taken the time to learn everything possible about. Getting to nerd out over that kind of stuff is a blast, and just about always you end up walking away with some great new ideas on top of it!”

Such is the spirit of City Fruit Cider. It is a bold idea, grounded in community, made by people who love fruit, hate waste, and want to give something back to this beautiful city. As Caity from Seattle Cider puts it, “it’s really cool for people who helped harvest the fruit to see a final product. You could volunteer, harvest with us, and your apples could be in that bottle — you just don’t know it.”

So when you open up a “delightfully tart and herbaceous” bottle of City Fruit Cider (as we hope you will, if you’re over the age of 21), know that you are drinking the fruits of the Emerald City. And if it seems in any way tangential to the City Fruit mission, know also that with every sip you are supporting our work to nourish people, build community, and protect the climate. You are helping us to keep tons of apples from going to waste, and providing financial support to keep us growing. You are a part of who we are, and what we do, and we thank you. Cheers!