The forgotten fruit

The sun rises over Talbott Farms in Palisade, Colorado, as Jennifer Seiwald fires up her mobile fruit-juicing truck she’s nicknamed Helga.

“Going up!” Seiwald calls as she loads up a 1,000-pound tote of peaches to be juiced, and Helga roars into action. The mobile juicing trailer makes short work of the huge load of peaches, and the owner of Summit Hard Cider and Scrumpy’s Hard Cider Bar and Pub takes some satisfaction in knowing her work not only makes delicious hard cider but also provides real support for local and sustainable food production. 

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“I’m a firm believer in supporting local agriculture, and if we don’t do it, it will go away,” Seiwald said. “Colorado is a really harsh mistress, but we grow some of the best fruit here. I really want to see that art survive.”

Jennifer Seiwald dumps peaches into the wash bin section of Helga, the Summit Hard Cider mobile juicing trailer, in Palisade, Colorado
Jennifer Seiwald dumps peaches into the wash bin section of Helga, the Summit Hard Cider mobile juicing trailer, in Palisade, Colorado Sept. 3. Seiwald supports local agriculture and farms all over the state of Colorado, contributing $2 million back into the Colorado agriculture system every year. (Collegian | Milo Gladstein)

Industrial food production is hard on farmers. The demands for huge quantities and uniform production make it difficult for large-scale growers to make a profit and nearly impossible for small farms to survive. With the help of Helga, Seiwald specializes in juicing what is known as “seconds.” These are perfectly tasty and usable fruits that would never make it to market for a variety of reasons — one being quality-based contracts.

Fruit that’s too big, small or blemished violates this contract, and farmers toss out what doesn’t make the cut. Big grocers want the cheapest, most perfect-looking fruit they can find, often going so far as to import fruits from other states like California because they are 50 cents less per pound and look “better” than locally grown fruits. Doing so causes their carbon footprint to grow exponentially. 

Seiwald moved to Fort Collins in 1991 with her husband searching for a fresh start. After spending 25 years in the banking industry, it was time for a career change. Seiwald has a severe allergy to hops, so brewing beer was out of the question. Through research and observation, Seiwald came to the realization that nobody was brewing hard cider in Fort Collins. 

“That was the defining, pivotal moment where I decided to figure out what it took to make cider,” Seiwald said. She enrolled in some classes with the Washington State University Extension office as well as the Cider Academy in the United Kingdom before launching her company, Summit Cider. 

Fruit grown in Colorado generally has a higher sugar content and thicker skin than fruit from other states like California, which creates more tannins, making for a richer tasting cider. That local taste is not only the key to sustainability but has set Summit apart.

“We use only Colorado peaches — primarily Palisade peaches — in our peach cider, and they’re delicious,” Seiwald said. “They’re the best, and that’s all there is to it.” She estimated she also helps small farmers and orchard owners put over $2 million per year into the local economy. 

Another instance of this assistance is Seiwald’s relationship with Palisade orchard owners Annette and Bob Dunckley. “Last year by this time, we had a lot more fruit dropping on the ground,” Annette Dunckley said. “We were in a hurry trying to figure out what to do.” The Dunckleys had 18,000 pounds juiced by Summit Cider this year, so all that fruit that would have gone to waste is distributed all over the state of Colorado as well as into Kansas and Wyoming.

Seiwald maintains a close relationship with Colorado State University both through the agricultural college and the fermentation science and technology program. Seiwald allows CSU fermentation science students to brew beer in Scrumpy’s Hard Cider Bar with peach juice from Palisade. The beer is called Belgian Peche, which is a peach saison made with local malt. Students learn how to use the unique qualities of local fruit to create a flavor that can’t be replicated elsewhere. 

Seiwald met Dawn Thilmany, CSU agricultural and resource economics professor, while on a local food panel at CSU. Seiwald’s goal was to get more people involved in where their food comes from, and Thilmany told her about the Local Food Promotion Program grant from the United States Department of Agriculture.

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USDA continues to put new resources on the ground to catalyze innovations in farms and food supply chains,” Thilmany said. “As soon as I met Jennifer Siewald, …  we quickly brainstormed how a mobile juicing unit she had heard of might serve the Western Slope well.” It took months of work, but the USDA grant helped her buy the trailer. 

“Fast forward five years, and she is helping to create a market for ‘seconds’ among fruit growers that has not existed in years,” Thilmany said. “We are lucky to have community leaders like her to lean into when opportunities for food system investments arise.” 

Jennifer Seiwlald pours a glass of Summit Hard Cider in Scrumpy’s Hard Cider Bar and Pub in Old Town Fort Collins
Jennifer Seiwlald pours a glass of Summit Hard Cider in Scrumpy’s Hard Cider Bar and Pub in Old Town Fort Collins Nov. 16. This cider contains juice Seiwald juiced in Palisade, Colorado, to support local agriculture. (Collegian | Milo Gladstein)

The USDA estimates $161.6 billion of food gets wasted each year, which motivates food workers like Kevin Harvey, who manages the mobile juicing truck. “Forty-plus percent of this industry is just thrown away,” Harvey said. “That 1,500 gallons of juice in the back of that truck would have just been thrown into a landfill. I wish that more people, especially farmers themselves, knew about this.” 

“We usually do between 500,000-800,000 pounds of fruit processing (per year) with (Helga),” Seiwald said. This is all fruit that was grown with hard work and a lot of money that would have been wasted if not juiced. There is a small amount of waste produced by the trailer; this is used as compost and put back into the soil. The excess trash from the juicing process gets spread into the fields in Palisade because the soil is very alkaline — fruit is acidic, so spreading it into the fields brings the soil pH down, which causes the fruit to have higher sugar levels and taste better.

The juice is then brought back to Scrumpy’s Hard Cider Bar in Old Town Fort Collins and fermented in large tanks into hard and nonalcoholic cider, which is then canned and sold right in the shop and distributed all over the state of Colorado. Seiwald and head cider maker Erik Woodwick create new and exciting cider flavors. Seiwald plans to continue to expand Scrumpy’s and Summit cider distribution as well as continue to support local farmers and businesses.

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  • Pears about to be juiced by Jennifer Seiwald and Helga, the mobile juicing truck, in Palisade, Colorado Sept. 2. These pears are from Annette and Bob Dunckley, who had 18,000 pounds juiced this year.

    Collegian | Milo Gladstein

  • Pears on a tree at Annette and Bob Dunckley’s orchard in Palisade, Colorado Sept. 2.

    Collegian | Milo Gladstein

  • Pears on a tree at Annette and Bob Dunckley’s orchard in Palisade, Colorado Sept. 2.

    Collegian | Milo Gladstein

  • Annette and Bob Dunckley on their orchard in Palisade, Colorado Sept. 2. The Dunckleys spent their lives on a ranch in Wyoming and moved down to Palisade two years ago to promote local agriculture and make sure people know where their food comes from.

    Collegian | Milo Gladstein

  • Jennifer Seiwald moves peaches to be loaded into Helga, the Summit Hard Cider mobile juicing trailer, in Palisade, Colorado Sept. 3. “We usually do between 500,000-800,000 pounds of food or fruit processing with her,” Seiwald said. “And I know this year, we’re well over 500,000 pounds and probably closer to 700,000 pounds of fruit that we’ve processed with Helga.”

    Collegian | Milo Gladstein

  • Jennifer Seiwald moves peaches into the conveyor belt of Helga, the Summit Hard Cider mobile juicing trailer, in Palisade, Colorado Sept. 3. “We usually do between 500,000-800,000 pounds of food or fruit processing with her,” Seiwald said. “I know this year, we’re well over 500,000 pounds and probably closer to 700,000 pounds of fruit that we’ve processed with Helga.”

    Collegian | Milo Gladstein

  • Peaches inside a tote to be juiced by Helga, the Summit Hard Cider mobile juicing trailer, in Palisade, Colorado Sept. 3. Each tote weighs between 850-1,000 pounds.

    Collegian | Milo Gladstein

  • Kevin Harvey, Summit Hard Cider mobile juicing truck manager, cleans the trailer before use in Palisade, Colorado Sept. 2. Harvey has multiple jobs on the farm, including running operations, fixing tools, pasteurizing fruit and more.

    Collegian | Milo Gladstein

  • Jennifer Seiwald sorts through peaches in the wash bin section of Helga, the Summit Hard Cider mobile juicing trailer, in Palisade, Colorado Sept. 3. Seiwald said they juice 12,000-20,000 pounds of fruit per day, and the record was 40,000 pounds in a day.

    Collegian | Milo Gladstein

  • Jennifer Seiwald paddles peaches into the conveyer belt section of Helga, the Summit Hard Cider mobile juicing truck in Palisade, Colorado Sept. 3. Seiwlad juices 12,000-20,000 pounds of fruit per day with Helga.

    Collegian | Milo Gladstein

  • Cans of cider on the canning line at Scrumpy’s Hard Cider Bar and Pub in Old Town Fort Collins Nov. 16. The cider is brewed, canned and sold all over the state of Colorado.

    Collegian | Milo Gladstein

  • One of the larger tanks used to brew cider in Scrumpy’s Hard Cider Bar in Old Town Fort Collins Nov. 16. The tank was named Mannie after a big water rights supporter.

    Collegian | Milo Gladstein

  • Jennifer Seiwald drives her truck and trailer to pick up juice from the storage facility in Old Town Fort Collins Nov. 16. Seiwald brought all the juice back from Palisade, Colorado, and stored it to be brought to Scrumpy’s Hard Cider Bar and Pub in batches for cider.

    Collegian | Milo Gladstein

  • John Lovell loads a 175-pound tote of juice in the back of Jennifer Seiwald’s truck to be brought back to Scrumpy’s Hard Cider Bar and Pub and fermented into cider Nov. 16. This cider was juiced on the Western Slope and was being brought back to Fort Collins.

    Collegian | Milo Gladstein

  • John Lovell sits in the forklift while loading juice into Jennifer Seiwald’s truck to be brought back to Scrumpy’s Hard Cider Bar and Pub in Fort Collins Nov. 16. Lovell has worked with Seiwald for many years and owns a ranch in Ault, Colorado, where he grows apples for cider.

    Collegian | Milo Gladstein

  • Jennifer Seiwald, owner of Summit Hard Cider and Scrumpy’s Hard Cider Bar and Pub, explains which juice goes in which tank to Erik Woodwick inside Scrumpy’s in Old Town Fort Collins Nov. 16. Woodwick is a recent Colorado State University graduate and is the head cider maker with Summit and Scrumpy’s.

    Collegian | Milo Gladstein

  • One of the kegs of cider brewed by Summit Cider in Scrumpy’s Hard Cider Bar and Pub in Old Town Fort Collins Nov. 16. The cider gets sold in the shop and distributed all over the state.

    Collegian | Milo Gladstein

  • Head cidermaker Erik Woodwick checks one of the brewing tanks before filling it with juice in Scrumpy’s Hard Cider Bar and Pub in Old Town Fort Collins Nov. 16. Woodwick graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in fermentation science.

    Collegian | Milo Gladstein

  • Head cidermaker Erik Woodwick holds the pump hose in a bag of juice to be loaded into one of the big tanks in Scrumpy’s Hard Cider Bar and Pub in Old Town Fort Collins Nov. 16. One of the most exciting parts of Woodwick’s job is creating new cider flavors.

    Collegian | Milo Gladstein

  • Jennifer Seiwald tastes the first glass of mixed together juice from the Western Slope in Scrumpy’s Hard Cider Bar and Pub Nov. 16. “That makes my soul happy,” Seiwald said after trying “that Western Slope goodness.”

    Collegian | Milo Gladstein

  • Jennifer and Rodney Seiwald inside Scrumpy’s Hard Cider Bar and Pub in Old Town Fort Collins Nov. 16. Rodney has been Jennifer’s biggest supporter since she started brewing cider.

    Collegian | Milo Gladstein

  • A glass of Summit Hard Cider in Scrumpy’s Hard Cider Bar and Pub in Old Town Fort Collins Nov. 16. This cider contains juice Seiwald juiced in Palisade, Colorado, to support local agriculture.

    Collegian | Milo Gladstein

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The perfect pear

Annette and Bob Dunckley spent the majority of their lives living on a ranch in Dixon, Wyoming. Two years ago they transitioned to an orchard in Palisade, Colorado, focusing on growing pears.

A steady breeze flows down the mesa walls surrounding the orchard, insuring the orchard stays cool in the summer and is protected by frost in the winter. The Dunckleys’ core philosophy is farm to table, reconnecting people to the source of their food, and they hope to impart that knowledge to their granddaughters. 

“We’re truly blessed to be able to get to do this,” Annette Dunckley said. “And we hope to pass it along.” 

“Sometimes you got to get out and get your hands dirty, to shake everything else off in the world,” Annette Dunckley said. “You can get out here and kind of get back to nature and things get in perspective.”

For Annette Dunckley, the orchards have always called to her more than the ranch. Just this past spring, honeybees were added to the orchard. Bees were not an option in Wyoming, but now down in Palisade, they have become a reality, with plans to get two or three more hives in the coming years. Since the addition of bees, the Dunckleys have noticed a considerable increase in fruit yield this past growing season. While they are not necessary for peaches, they have increased pear yield considerably. Knowledge of how the ecosystem functions is imperative in creating a harmonious orchard. The ecosystem created on an orchard works as a sort of family in itself, which can be passed down to grandchildren and orchard owners alike.  

Though the orchard has been a dream come true, it has not come without challenges. One of the main problems has been fire blight, a disease that attacks fruit trees and can single-handedly destroy an orchard. This manifests as cankers — or wet decaying splotches — on a fruit tree. Managing it can prove very difficult. The wood has to be burned on site so the blight doesn’t spread.

“Ag people tend to be a little more shoulder-to-shoulder kind of folks and work together,” Annette Dunckley said. “You have a common goal: Everybody wants to have a great product at the end of the year; everybody hurts when everybody gets froze out, or everybody hurts when some kind of insect comes in or ruins an entire harvest.”

The Dunckleys plan to remove a large portion of the pear orchard and replace it with 1,400 peach trees so it will be a multi-fruit orchard. It is said that orchards are meant to be planted for the next generation, and the Dunckleys are absolutely upholding this tradition in spectacular fashion. 

“Maybe I’m unreal about it,” Annette Dunckley said. “But to me, I love it because they are my decorated trees all summer. And then the fall is like, ‘Oh darn. This part’s over, but we’re on to the next,’ and then leaves are beautiful because they’re that reddish-orange color, and so it’s fabulous all year round.”

Reach Milo Gladstein at photo@collegian.com or on Twitter @gladsteinmilo.