John Chapman (September 26, 1774 – March 11, 1845), often
called Johnny Appleseed, was an American pioneer nurseryman who introduced
apple trees to large parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois,
including the northern counties of present day West Virginia. He became an
American legend while still alive, due to his kind, generous ways, his
leadership in conservation, and the symbolic importance he attributed to apples.
The popular image is of Johnny Appleseed spreading apple
seeds randomly, everywhere he went. In fact, he planted nurseries rather than
orchards, built fences around them to protect them from livestock, left the
nurseries in the care of a neighbor who sold trees on shares, and returned
every year or two to tend the nursery. Although apples grown from seed are
rarely sweet or tasty, apple orchards with sour apples were popular among the
settlers because apples were mainly used for producing hard cider and apple jack.
Cider became very popular in colonial America for two
reasons – firstly because it tasted good, and secondly, potable water wasn’t
always so easy to secure, so low alcohol hard cider and sweet cider were good
alternatives. The Hudson Valley is among the biggest apple producing regions on
the east coast (though it is well shy of its prowess from a hundred years ago).
Cider’s popularity declined with the influx of German, Irish, and central European
who gave rise to the beer industry.
Enter Sara Grady. Sara is not the first of the cider
pioneers. Annie Proulx, the Pulitzer-Prize winning author, wrote one of the
best books on cider 20 years ago, and it is still considered a classic. Steve
Wood at Farnum Hill, Dan Wilson at Slyboro, and Jason Grizzanti at Warwick
Valley have been beating the cider drum for years. They gave the movement
But Sara made the movement “happen.” Sara coalesced it. She
took a group of disparate produces, and gave them a common ground. Brought them
together. She established a community of them, and got them talking to one another.
She established a conversation. And she established Cider Week.
“I created Cider Week,” she told Sara Forrest of
ShopBird.com last year, “as part of the work I’m doing to support the viability
of orchards, and to establish hard cider and apple spirits as signature Hudson
Valley apple products. Actually, Cider Week has grown beyond just Hudson Valley
cider and now involves a group of craft cider producers from throughout New
York and New England – all of whom have a shared goal to build appreciation for
and awareness of (real) hard cider.”
Ann Monroe wrote in Edible Manhattan, “Cider Week, mounted
as part of a much bigger Apple Project run by the upstate agricultural
not-for-profit Glynwood Center, is a celebration of apple alcohol and all the
benefits it can bring to local orchards and drinkers alike. Sara Grady,
Glynwood’s special projects director and Cider Week mastermind, has arranged an
exchange between nascent Northeast cider makers and their storied French
counterparts, who’ll be here in October, and is developing a Hudson Valley
Cider Route, inspired by similar trails in Europe.”
When asked how she got involved with Glennwood, Sara told ShopBird.com,
“I got deeply interested in food and agriculture because it’s where all my
interests in culture, history, nature, art, and science intersect. I used to
produce educational and doc-style media for television and exhibitions… but it
felt like commentary and I wanted to feel like I was making things happen. So I
started doing video work about farms and food projects, one of which was
Glynwood. I was just in the right place at the right time! I got a job there as
a program director, and now I create programs to support regional food
production. It’s creative, I get to help people who are passionate about what
they do, and I am always learning! I love it.”
“Orchards were razed in the name of sobriety, and apples
were recast as a fruit for healthy eating. Today America is home to only a
quarter of the 20 million apple trees we grew in 1900, and our apple diversity
has been pared back to just a few varieties. Most of the apples we consume are
drunk as juice reconstituted from concentrate, 82 percent of it imported,
mostly from China,” Sara told Edible Manhattan.
“New York is the second largest grower of apples in the
nation,” Sara has said, “acreage in apples in the Hudson Valley declined by 14
percent and the number of orchards went down by 25 percent.”
Sara went on to explain the value of cider to farmers and
farming, saying, “Apple growers in the Hudson Valley, like many farmers, have
been challenged in recent years by rising costs of production, changing weather
patterns, and development pressures. Hard cider and apple spirits are higher
value products that allow farms to diversify, add value to the crop, even out
the growing season – and therefore can bring higher profits and a steadier
“Also, apples sold for fresh eating are expected to be
perfect-looking and unblemished – so any fruit that is not cosmetically perfect
can’t be sold fresh. But when you’re just going to crush the fruit and ferment
the juice, beauty is irrelevant. So it’s a great way for a grower to reclaim
the value on fruit that might be rejected for supermarket shelves – maybe it
got hit by hail or is otherwise marred, but it’s still perfectly delicious!
Incidentally, growers who specialize in hard cider apples may be able to spray
fewer chemicals since a lot of that is just to ensure perfect-looking fruit,”
Sara told Forrest.
“The biggest challenge is making people understand what
cider is, that it’s not this sweet fizzy stuff you get in a deli or as a beer
alternative,” Grady told AmericanFoodRoots.com. “Having a sense of place through
food is very powerful,” she says. “The idea that there is something that was
very American, very much a part of American culture and American history that
is also tied to that sense of place. … People feel connected to that idea, that
this is something that was a part of our history and can be again a part of our
And that is the special gift of Sara Grady. She is Mrs.
Appleseed. She is the second coming of Mr. Chapman. She may not be out there
planting trees, but she mind as well be. She has synthesized the message and is
the foghorn for it. In the mist of beers, and wine, and spirits, she is the
siren singing the song of cider, calling out for people not to forget where
they came from. Calling them home to an earlier, simpler, more healthy time.
Healthier for the land especially.
In Cider Week, Grady has created a maelstrom of good press
for cidermakers all over the east coast, but especially in the Hudson Valley. Not
only did she create the Cider Trail, but in 2013 her organization helped create
dozens of stories in the media celebrating cider, and coordinated more than 55
events from New York City to Albany with tastings, dinners, and food pairings.
She is determined and single-minded. She has done an excellent job. And luckily for us, she's been a success.
To read more about Sara: