Showcasing a Season: Equity, History, and the Future of Cider on Hard Core

By: Rachael Markow

2020’s lockdowns, quarantines, riots, and soaring political tensions changed the way people viewed the world and operated their businesses. The first season of Hard Core, A Cider Podcast came out before the Covid-19 pandemic and while we’re still drinking hard cider, the world is a very different place. Season two of Hard Core dives deeper into the history of cidermaking and challenges our preconceived notions about it, while also taking a look at the cidermaking process and the importance of equity in a post-2020 landscape.

We spend a significant amount of time in Ithaca this season, speaking to cideries, farmers, and experts. The area is well known for its local cideries which are leading the way in the American cider revival. Ithaca's climate is especially suited for cultivating apples, resulting in fruit with rich terroir.

Our season starts at the root of cider. Before labeling, bottling or fermentation, cider begins with growing apple trees. According to a 2017 report from the USDA, of over 3 million farms assessed, 95% of farm producers in this country are white and 65% of all farmers identify as male. Deeply rooted racism in rural communities and local governments historically has made it difficult for Black farmers to succeed in their communities or benefit from government agricultural support programs. The lack of representation in farming results in the same deficit in the world of cider making. As lawsuits stall federal relief legislation for Black farmers and impede equitable agricultural environments, some business owners in the cider world are taking the initiative to rebalance, repair, and regrow. 

Just outside Ithaca, Deva Maas and her husband and business partner Eric Schatt of Redbyrd Orchard Cider see the role of cider as more than a delicious beverage. In collaboration with other local makers, Deva and Eric aim to normalize reparations. “We have this percentage go towards reparations and we're bringing these other people into the conversation,” Deva says. “I think there are the reparations and then there's the mindset around it, the information around it, and the hope that it grows and expands. It is a necessary and needed thing. It is a way to expand the conversation which we also felt is our responsibility as white farmers.”

Quarter Acre for the People in Ithaca is a recipient of Redbyrd Cidery’s reparation package and shares Redbyrd’s ethos of equitable land access and farming. Christa Nuñez runs the teaching farm and is creating farmer scholars there. “There are five pathways,” Christa says of the farm, “but Quarter Acre right now is focused on pathway four, which is cooperative farm development and cooperative ownership of land.” On participating with Redbyrd in the reparations package Christa says “one of the big reasons that we decided to go forward with it was because I believe BIPOC people would be really good at making cider. I really felt like the marketplace is enriched by people who know how to put forth great products. I believe in my heart that people who put forth great, high-quality products stem from a love for people and a love for the land.”

In the following episode, we broaden our look on equity and the history of American cider. Malus fusca, or the Pacific crabapple, is native to the continent and there’s a rich history and contemporary culture surrounding the variety to explore. We follow apple seeds and stocks across the continent and through time as Eveline Ferretti leads us through Cornell University’s Mann Library in Ithaca. We pore over botanical books housed in a protective vault. Eveline pulls a title from the shelves. “It's an "Encyclopedia of Practical Horticulture, published in 1914. It tells us that in New York in 1914, 54,000 farmers were producing cider. That’s 25% of all farmers, producing cider. The Finger Lakes has really old, old roots here. So, when you go hiking here and you see all those wild apple seedlings, you understand. It was just such a tradition in this area. That history is part of the terroir.’

We also examine how the apple has been and is still used by Indigenous nations. North America was home to apples long before Europeans - or cider - reached its shores. From there we also get to know Midwestern cideries and embrace the eclectic flavors (and stories) behind American cider.

We turn to climate change and possible solutions in our season finale. As extreme weather events become increasingly common, how will apples fare? Will the taste of cider evolve? We return to the labs at Cornell University in Ithaca to talk with our favorite pomologist, Greg Peck, about apple genetics, biodiversity, and climate change. “We had multiple precipitation events in the summer of 2021 that were over two and sometimes even three or more inches. Those are storms that should be once every 10 to 20 years and we're getting them multiple times within the season.” Does horticulture hold some of the solutions to these issues? To a certain extent, yes. By understanding the history of different varieties of apples and applying their genetic strengths we can grow more resilient trees. But there is not a one size fits all solution to this complex and overwhelming issue. “I don't have the answer,” Greg tells us. “I wish I did, but I think making sure that we're getting information out there and getting people understanding that climate change is happening is important.” 

Tune in for more on how studying (and growing) historic apple varieties can change the future of the cider industry. Listen to a conversation about the importance of preserving cherished aspects of apple culture and how drinkers are connecting with the land around them. We spend time with Patrick Blackman, chef at Coltivare in Ithaca, talking about food pairings. “From a culinary standpoint,” he says, “I think it allows a lot of flexibility for restaurants to be able to not only sell the cider but make a pairing with it for a special appetizer or even an entrée to push the envelope for yourself and support local.” 

Listen to this season of Hard Core for all of this and more as passionate Ithacans like Deva Maas and Eric Schatt, Christa Nuñez, Gregory Peck, Eveline Feretti, and Patrick Blackman show how their work in the cider industry is changing the world around them.

This season of Hard Core is brought to you by Visit Ithaca, helping you to plan your next getaway. In addition to amazing cideries, Ithaca has waterfalls and wineries, art and theater, outdoor recreation, and family fun. The area is famous for its glacier-carved gorges, co-op run businesses, and cultural influences from Cornell University and Ithaca College.

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