Thursday, September 18, 2014

Hard cider business is one way this family farm keeps changing

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media
September 18, 2014

Diversity at Schultz Fruitridge Farm means more than 20 varieties of apples, grapes, peaches, asparagus, and more. Bill Schultz talks about the latest innovation for the farm: turning its apples into hard cider. 

The air is crisp, the skies blue with plump white clouds, and a hint of a chill in the breeze hints at the coming fall. It’s apple season. 

During the months of September and October, Schultz Fruitridge Farms at 60139 County Road 652 in Mattawan is busy with its apple harvest. With 20 varieties of apples, they are one of the most popular U-pick places (or buy apples in their on-site shop) for the greater Kalamazoo community. Pickers move through the apple orchards with rosy cheeks, as if blushing in reflection of the ripening fruit.

Honeycrisp, Gala, McIntosh, Cortland, Empire, Fuji, Red and Yellow Delicious, Ida Red, Roma, Goldrush and more, all beckon from the acres of orchards. The Schultz family farms 250 acres of fruit and apples are only one of their many fruit and vegetable crops. 

There are vineyards of grapes, peaches, asparagus, blueberries, cherries, pears, pumpkins, squash, sweet corn, but if that’s not enough to whet an appetite, sweeten it with maple syrup and honey. On a separate ranch located in Schoolcraft, called Gravel Canyon Bison Ranch, the Schultz family raises bison for meat. 

“What makes us successful, what keeps us here so long when other farms aren’t,” says Bill Schultz, third-generation farmer, “is our diversity. When one crop fails, another survives.”

Bill Schultz is operations manager at the Schultz Fruitridge Farm, and he’s never considered any other occupation. The family farm, he says, is his passion. It has to be, he notes, because farming is hard and unforgiving work. “And you can have one night of frost or bad weather and lose an entire crop.”

That concept of diversifying to survive is one that crops up regularly in farm plans as the family gathers to assess their future. Sometime around 2012, the Schultz family started talking about another way to branch out: hard apple cider. 

“It’s value added,” says Schultz. “I did some traveling a few years ago, and I found really good hard cider in the United Kingdom, way better than ours in the United States. So I thought, why not us? Why not here? If anyone should be doing hard cider in this area, it should be us.”

The idea for a microbrewery was born, and the family named it Texas Corners Brewing Company, or TCBC. Brewing the hard cider on the farm and adding their own apples, they developed three flavors: Apple, Apple-Dry, and Apple-Cherry, priced at $5.50 for a 16 oz. bottle at 6.4 percent alcohol.

“These are not sissy beers.” Schultz smiles. 

By 2014, TCBC is brewing 1,500 gallons of the hard ciders on the farm. But why not add a tasting room? Why not a restaurant?


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