After our 2020 Apple Pressing Event, the team got together to debrief and compare experiences. The information collected at that session was incorporated into a formal report with recommendations and a subcommittee was formed at the Board level to review the report and design an apple pressing program for 2021. This is the rest of the story as told by Laurie Gallant, the lead coordinator for the project.
Community Apple Pressing Services for the Hazeltons in northwest British Columbia was first introduced in 2020 in the middle of the pandemic because apple trees and bears have no idea what COVID-19 is and kept on doing their thing despite changing rules for humans all around them. In our region, while resource extraction is a major economic driver, there are still many wild spaces that harbour active populations of bears, moose, wolves, rabbits, coyotes, deer. As well, our rivers have historically been home to globally significant populations of salmon and steelhead, and a critical food source for bears. Since our bears hibernate in winter, the two months leading up to their dormant stage are when they are eating as much as possible which includes fruit and berries. Sadly, many bears have been captured and relocated or simply killed on the spot by property owners or conservation owners when they start feeding on cultivated fruit in residential areas. Some communities in BC have adopted a BearSmart program and actively educate residents, however this program does not yet exist in the Hazeltons.
The goals of our project are simple:
- Provide a fun, affordable way for people to enjoy fresh, local apples.
- Reduce interactions with bears in the community who are attracted to fruit falling on the ground.
- Build up interest and capacity to grow, harvest, and preserve all kinds of food by removing barriers.
The top two barriers this project addresses are:
- ACCESS: Equipment needed to preserve food is expensive and hard to get even if you do have the funds. This is especially true during the pandemic and also when you live in rural communities with very small populations (less than 5000 people).
- CAPACITY: Only a small percentage of the population know how to safely operate food processing equipment and follow food safe procedures for preserving food. As well, the skills required to organise and/or staff a community event also come into play.
The origin of M.A.S.H. was directly connected to hosting music festivals with a sustainability and food security theme. With the onset of COVID-19 and cancellation of events, we shifted strategies to prioritize food security and appeal to a more diverse cross-section of our community. Our specific focus on apples was inspired by a local agricultural conference in 2017 in a session about collaborative marketing and distribution. At that session, a case study profiled a project in the Kootenays that features a mobile fruit juicing service that travels within a 2 hour radius to help local farmers process their fruit and prepare it for market. M.A.S.H. adapted this concept to a backyard scale and grant writing began with high hopes. Unfortunately, it took a couple years of figuring out the right way to word our project and the right people to sponsor much needed startup funding. In 2019, our luck changed on several fronts, and everything started falling into place.
First, a generous sponsor, Kassandra Trust, pledged an extra $2000 to use “as we wished” over and above the amount we requested to help fund our third regional food conference. Our Board agreed to buy a mobile apple pressing system. Secondly, about 6 weeks later, a Help Wanted ad appeared for an Apple Festival Project Coordinator in Telkwa, a community about 100 km away. This seemed like a golden opportunity to test out our idea so we applied for the contract and were successful. As a bonus, we were able to bring the new apple grinder and press to the event. The Festival was a HUGE success in terms of community participation, media coverage and of course boosting our confidence about organizing this type of event. In fact, the high profile of the event prompted an invitation to bring our apple press and coordinating skills to another community even further down the highway – 2 hours away. This second showing of the apple press was very different as it took place at a school while an apple pie fundraiser was in progress. Another successful event under our belt and with this experience and new connections, we were more keen than ever to offer services back in our home community of the Hazeltons.
So in 2020, we prioritised an event for the Hazeltons and because of COVID-19 requirements, came up with yet another model for delivering services that in our opinion was the best one yet in terms of work flow and experience for the volunteers operating the equipment to keep up with the volumes of apples coming in.
Here is how the 2020 Hazelton Community Apple Pressing Service rolled out:
Before I get into it, please know that our equipment is solid state technology and manually operated. This was purposefully done so that almost anybody with a bit of muscle power can use the machines after a short safety talk and demonstration. As well, manually operated equipment is cheaper to purchase and less things can go wrong which makes up for a bit of a slower pace than an electric grinder. I also elected to go with the stainless steel bucket instead of the “classic” wooden barrel for ease of cleaning and higher yields of juice with just one pressing (See photo above).
- Apple pressing is done by appointment only, just like going to the doctor’s office. Each appointment is 30 minutes long but you can have as many appointments as you need based on your volume of apples. We estimate we can press about 35 kg of apples in 30 minutes.
- Payment is by donation. We do not charge a specific amount of money – people pay what they can and we suggest $15 for each 30 minute session.
- Community members bring their own (clean) juice containers. We use a guideline of 1 litre of juice for 5 lbs (2.5 kg) of apples. If extra containers are needed, we can supply 1 litre mason jars with rings and lids at cost ($1.50).
- A sort and wash station is set up to make sure that any “problem” apples or contaminants do not go through our equipment and into the juice.
- Everybody is encouraged to take a turn at grinder and pressing, after a demonstration and safety talk.
- Rain and wasps are the biggest risks so we provide shelters, keep a clean site, and remind participants to bring medications if they have insect allergies.
- Juice sampling is encouraged and we provide 3 oz paper cups for this purpose.
- All remaining apple pulp is donated to local farmers for animal feed. This is pre- arranged and farmers drop off containers with lids that we can use to store the pulp until pick up time later that day.
- Depending on the venue and current guidelines around public events, extras like farm tours, live music, BearSmart education, and short activities for kids can be offered.
- It is just as important to look after your team as it is community members. Breaks are scheduled in, washrooms are nearby, and food and drink are provided on demand.
- When capacity allows, our team can help pick fruit from the trees and also donate “surplus” juice back to the community either through local clubs or the food bank.
- We collect, record and share out data on how many kg of apples were pressed and how many litres of juice were produced. An example of a raw data sheet is shown below. This requires a good system for weighing out apples. We use white food-grade 5 gallon buckets and also plastic webbed baskets with handles for standardised containers. A 5 gallon bucket can hold 20 lbs of apples.
Successes and Lessons Learned
Based on feedback received, our project is inspiring hope in our community that people can pull together to share skills and resources. There are other apple presses privately owned in the area and perhaps our successes will inspire them to reach out to us or organise their own neighbourhood events.
I also feel that people are satisfied with how we have responded to feedback. Last year a few residents made it clear that their varieties of apples ripen far sooner than our event (September 11 in 2020) and asked for an earlier option. This year we offered services on August 29 and have two more planned for September 7 and September 18. See Table 1 below for quantities of apples processed.
Table 1 - Year over Year comparison
MASH Apple Pressing 2020/2021
|KG of apples pressed||313||654|
|Litres of juice taken home||139||242|
|Number of days offered||2||4|
Changing the fee structure to make our event more financially sustainable was also a great move. Last year because we had decent sponsorship, we just charged $5 as an incentive to book and keep a reservation. This year based on team recommendations, we moved to a by donation policy and ended up with far more revenues at the end of the day. For example, last year we made $35 and this year $172. Our aim is to cover our operating expenses and equipment and supply costs and with this new model we are much closer to doing that.
Partnerships in the community are also a success. Last year, we partnered with another non-profit that does community development work and they did some apple gleaning, helped promote the event, and covered the rental fee for the venue at a private campground, as well as sending over two of their staff to help us the day of the event. While we had hoped for the same partners, circumstances did not allow for this so we leveraged the situation to try a new partner and modified the scope of our services to match our capacity. We offered three opportunities on a private farm where the equipment is stored, and one more opportunity in a festival format in a municipal park in a high profile location. It was wonderful to partner with our local municipality who has been watching our work for a few years now and getting regular updates. They let us use the park free of charge and assigned their Public Works director to assist us with access to water and power. It took a few years of nurturing relationships for these partnerships to happen. The first year during my pitch and fundraise stage, I approached both partners and got a flat no. After getting experience in the other two communities and offering additional community services such as a Food Preserving Equipment Lending Library and Food Preserving Classes.
I think it helps that I have learned to be patient – that I have to be in it for the long game and not expect the whole vision to materialise in one short year. It also helps to have a solid core of people on your team that love the project, our community, and the opportunity to offer a unique service that brings people together especially during the pandemic. Also worth mentioning again that reducing Bear/Human conflicts is a big motivator so sometimes support for the project will come from unexpected places. We had a bear biologist in the region come out and give a talk about bears and also hook us up with resources like books and videos that we could donate to our local library, as well as stickers to hand out to the public.
Probably the biggest lesson I have learned is to be flexible and adapt your vision and approach based on community input and the reality of what is going on in the bigger world. COVID-19 forced us to go to an appointment system and this ended up being a wonderful way to create a more relaxed, enjoyable day for everyone involved. If possible, get a good estimate of the volume of apples when booking the appointment and be prepared with some stats to help people guesstimate their volume and also how many juice containers they will need.
We are now in year 2 of Apple Pressing and have already had our first event. We’ve pretty much implemented every recommendation based on Year 1 experience and are prepared to make changes again to our project if needed.