Pushing the Envelope

Imagine if Steve Jobs had not made the leap from calligraphy to computer graphics. Imagine if Phil Knight had not thought of Nike as more than a running shoe company. Imagine if Washington state apple growers had thought of themselves only as Red Delicious apple growers. Imagine if New York apple growers decided to throw in the towel simply because Washington state growers could do it bigger and cheaper. Imagine if……

Pushing the envelope is just a cute way of saying “innovation.” The only really great things in life have come from those that have pushed the envelope, created something truly extraordinary, and changed people’s lives.

Just imagine if Red Jacket Orchards had decided to just grow apples instead of innovating and growing all the really great summer fruits and producing all those really great juices.

Just Imagine. Strive each day to be better than yesterday. Innovate, innovate, innovate…

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Happy New Year, ya’ll!!

It’s not just the food, it’s the bringing of the food.
–Dalai Lama, attributed

Bring some food, dance, sing, celebrate. The time of renewal is right in front of us. Enjoy the moment, Rejoice!

Happy New Year, ya’ll!!

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This gallery contains 2 photos.

Blaise Pascal once said “Clarity of mind means clarity of passion, too; this is why a great and clear mind loves ardently and sees distinctly what he loves.” At Red Jacket Orchards we are certainly on a path of clarity … Continue reading

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Keep On, Keepin’ On

Farming, more than any other endeavor, lives and dies by the weather. So do many farmers. That’s why you’ll hear us either talking, revering, or complaining about it…usually the latter. “It’s too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, too windy…or some combination thereof.” It is weather that dictates the day to day activities on a farm, and, that in a matter of minutes (in the case of hail), can take away everything you’ve worked for all season. Yet we continue to farm. Why? Most people would simply give up.

Well, in a few words, because we love it. We have a passion for it. Oh sure, we love to hate it at times, what with bad weather, flat tires, broken tractors, and deep mud. But we still love it. We get up before the dawn and go to bed long after the sun’s gone down. We work long hours in the hopes that this year will be better than the last. And we do it because we love it (did I say that already?). In my case, I do it knowing that the effort myself and everyone at Red Jacket Orchards puts into their work is a passion; its effort towards a greater end goal: A passion to grow and purvey the best tasting, healthiest, and sustainably grown fruit and juices around. To see one of our customers thoroughly enjoy a Red Jacket fresh apple or glass of our hot spiced cider is what it is all about. To be sure, there are a lot easier ways to make a living, but there’s only a few ways to get this kind of euphoric rush from something truly great to  eat or drink.

So, regardless of the weather today, tomorrow, or the next day, I’ll be getting up before the dawn to do it all over again. Hope to see you there!

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Winter’s Here, Folks!

As I was driving to work today, I thought it kind of ironic that I needed to head deeper into western New York to escape the onslaught that old man winter is throwing at the majority of New England and the east coast. Yes, it was 13 degrees (F) with 35 mph winds when I went out to get some more wood for the fire. But what we were getting in pure cold and windchill, we lacked in snowfall. There was snow falling, but not anywhere near what they were getting a few hours to the east. I found it both a late Christmas gift (I hate shoveling snow) and problematic. So far this year we’ve have not had enough snow to really coat the ground.

If we get colder temperatures than we have now, they could prove to be an issue for tree and plant roots, as well as plants that are not really cold resistant. Damage to the roots and, in some cases, the above ground plant parts can affect the crop for next year. That said, all the trees and plants are VERY dormant right now, so they are at their peak resistance to cold damage. As well, although it is cold to the skin right now, it has not gotten anywhere near cold enough to cause any damage. But….we need snow to help insulate the plant roots from the cold as well as the inadvertent warming in early spring.

As I make my way from building to building today, I’ll think of how resilient plants are and the path they take in order to give us the delectable fruit we all know they can. Winter’s here for now, folks, but be sure that spring is just a few months away with strawberries, cherries and all that great Red Jacket Orchard fruit not too far behind. Hang in there!

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Newtown Pippin Heirloom Apples

By today’s standards, the Newtown Pippin isn’t an elite apple like, say, Honeycrisp or Jazz. These two elite apples were carefully selected for their commercial appeal. Newtown Pippins were likely planted for more obscure reasons. What Honeycrisp and Jazz do not have is a connection with our culture, our history, our collective culinary psyche. And it is for this reason that the Newtown Pippin holds such an iconic place in New York City’s apple history. It is without a doubt the Big Apple’s apple.

The Pippin is a somewhat roundish (tending to oblong), yellowish-green apple that resembles (somewhat) a Granny Smith. The flesh is particularly dense without tremendous crunch or juiciness. But the flavor and aroma are heavenly. Fresh off the tree, the first bite brings a sweet and sour taste with a hint of lemon. The second bite builds on the first and you understand why (perhaps) that first tree was planted on the Gershom Moore estate in the village of Elmhurst, then known as Newtown. The Moore property stood in the vicinity of what is now Broadway and 45th Avenue in Queens County on Long Island. This sweet and tart green apple became so prized by the most cultured citizens of our new republic that Thomas Jefferson declared from France, “They have no apples here to compare with our Newtown pippin.”

A few years ago Red Jacket Orchards planted an orchard to Newtown Pippin. This was done in part to diversify its apple plantings, but also to pay homage to the role apples, especially the Pippin, play to New York apples. In addition to our Pippins, we have some Cox Orange Pippin (another great apple that plays a major role in the history of apples), Baldwin (another big NY apple), Margil, and Lady apple (perhaps one of the oldest apples in production—dating back to the 1500s in France). Because of its commitment to heritage apples and sustainable farming, Red Jacket Orchards is well poised to be NYC’s orchard of choice when it comes to all things fruit.

Heirloom apples offer more than just history for appeal. Because they have not been selected for cosmetic values—many are russetted, small, generally unappealing from a commercial standpoint—they have retained what is great about them: their uniqueness. Each heirloom variety has its own look, flavor, aroma, and texture. And because of this, each variety deserves a looksee. But start with the Newtown Pippin, because there is little about this apple that isn’t New York—except that it doesn’t have pinstripes.

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Back in the Saddle

Even as I sit here early on a snowy Sunday morning, I know there’s lots happening out in the orchard. Oh sure, the leaves have lost their leaves, all the apples have been picked. But those trees–as well as me–are thinking about next season already. As soon as the trees have accumulated enough chilling hours (a minimum amount of cold temperatures required to grow properly), those trees will want to grow again with the first warm temperatures. Apricots and Japanese plums are by far the most sensitive–that is, they’ll need the fewest chilling hours before they’r ready to go. The same goes for me. After a little down time and some well deserved R&R, I will be ready to go shortly after the first of the year. The orchards will still need until April before they’re adequately primed, but after that it is all hands on deck: we’ve got another season in front of us. Stay Tuned!

After a few weeks of no posts, please look for several new posts each week through the winter. Happy Holidays!

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Heirloom Apple Lecture Comin’ Up

I hope everyone’s winter is going well.  The weather is mighty chilly and the days are short.  Nevertheless, Red Jacket still has a large variety of heirloom apples to help you get through these cold days.  If you are not a winter CSA member, you can still get your fix at the farmers’ markets.  Need some ideas on what to do with your apples beyond munching on them raw?  Check out our website – we’ve got a bunch of really fun recipes!

If you’re interested in heirloom apples or simply would like to meet Farmer Mike, join us at Third Ward in a class on heirloom apples: get an overview of their history, the shocking and delightful variety (with over 1,000 types and names such as Cox Orange Pippin, Winter Banana, and Graniwinkle) and learn about the work being done by farms like Red Jacket Orchards to bring them back from the edge of extinction and onto your dinner table. You will learn about the diversity of heirloom apple varieties and their uses. We will have a tasting of different hard-to-find varieties, heirloom apple ciders, and, the best use of heirloom apples, hard cider.

Instructor Mike Biltonen is the director of Farm Operations at Red Jacket Orchards. He is a lifelong farmer with a passion for great tasting, sustainably grown food. With over 25 years experience farming here, there, and everywhere, he also loves to teach about what he’s learned over the years. But mostly he just likes to farm and eat heirloom apples with friends and foodies alike.

When: December 16, 2010 from 7:00 – 9:30pm
Where: Third Ward, Brooklyn
Cost: $15 for Third Ward Members, $20 for non members
Purchase tickets here.

**Reprinted from the Red Jacket Orchards CSA newsletter. Thanks, Wen-Jay!

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An Apple Revolution: Part I

Back in the day before SweeTango or HoneyCrisp, or even Gala and Braeburn, there were two types of apples you would find in a grocery store: red and yellow. And, yes, you can rest assured that they were probably ‘Delicious’. Then, in 1972, Grady Auvil, of Auvil Fruit Company, planted the first ‘Granny Smith‘ orchard in Washington State (and the US as well). This planting represented a significant departure for US orchardists from the steady production stream of Reds and Goldens. While many of our apple varieties came from Europe, none (that I know of) came from Australia or other Pacific Ocean countries until Granny Smith. That doesn’t mean there weren’t some scattered about. It just means that major US production was still focused on the “Big 2” and that American consumers had yet to discover the truly great apples that we now find regularly in supermarkets, farmers markets, and CSAs. The Granny Smith apple kicked off a revolution in US apple production.

One of the great “other” introductions from Down Under came from New Zealand. The Braeburn apple was discovered at Williams Brothers Braeburn Orchards near Nelson, New Zealand, in the 1950s. Most presume that ‘Lady Hamilton’ apple was one of the parents, while the other parent is considred to be ‘Granny Smith’–but there is no way to verify this. This apples’ rich sweet – tangy spicy flavor has high impact with consumers. It is a very firm aromatic, juicy, crisp, apple that combines sweet and tart. The apple was introduced to the US in the 1980s and is now major component of production throughout.

Braeburn stores very well if picked while still slightly immature (although at Red Jacket Orchards we have found quite the opposite….when picked right, of course!).  Braeburn is arguably at its best soon after picking and as such that’s how we like to serve it up .

Red Jacket Orchards doesn’t grow very many Braeburns at all. But what we do grow is quite good because of our growing conditions and ability to focus on this apple as a CSA and GreenMarket apple, rather than as one for supermarkets (in other words, we do not look to store it for very long in any year). So enjoy our Braeburns this fall (if you can find them) for as long as possible.

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Unleash the Potential

There are many people–activists, businesspeople, politicians, thinkers–that have come with really great ideas over the millenia. The trick is getting them into action. A really great idea without an action plan is like a classic bottle of wine that goes undrunk. When it comes to creating a new paradigm for our collective future–whether it be food, energy, education, or something else–you always need to start with a vision. Unleash the potential by ignoring the realities. Think big.

But once those thoughts are on the table and a cohesive vision begin to come together, you need to start thinking about a plan for making it happen. In the end this will require compromise. But at the formative stages, just like the vision, you are allowed to think big. In fact, you are encouraged. Again, do not let likely realities intrude on your vision. Truly great things have only come from people that think big.

Take organic agriculture for example. Thirty years ago, as I was beginning my career, organic agriculture was something you read about in the pages of Mother Earth News. Nobody took it really seriously–except the folks that practiced it–and even into the early 90s it was marginalized as something largely lacking commercial potential. But those early pioneers forged ahead and today organic foods have been the fastest growing sector of our food economy. [The downside, of course, is that organic foods have been co-opted by global food giants diluting both standards and the food supply itself.] And as that vision has been co-opted, people have begun to ask themselves (and think out loud) about what is next.

Today, there are those that are asking what is beyond organic. What’s out there that will trump organic either in terms of what is grown, how it is grown, where or by whom. And there are several areas you’d be very keen to keep an eye out for: biodynamics, permaculture, urban farming, vertical farms. Each of these areas is already being practiced by people all over the world, albeit in a relatively small way. And so how to make them a greater part of our global culture becomes the question–because in the end, our culture, or global survival depends on a new paradigm. In order to create enough inertia, we should not start by asking the question: can they be profitable or are they realistic. But rather by asking the question: where do we want to go? Where do we want to be in 50 or 100 years?

But don’t wait, because the moment will be lost. And when the moment is lost, then so is the dream–or at least it is eroded. Think big, let someone else deal with pondering over reality. Your vision must come to roost before it can take on a life of its own.

Then indecision brings its own delays,
And days are lost lamenting over lost days.
Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute;
What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it;
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


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