Expanding Markets for Lesser Known Perennial Crops Through the Craft Beverage Industry

Progress report for FNC19-1189

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2019: $27,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2021
Grant Recipient: Brix Cider LLC
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Matthew Raboin
Brix Cider LLC
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Project Information

Description of operation:

This project includes Brix Cider, Carandale Fruit Farm, Blind Giant Farm, and Lehman Family Farm. Brix Cider has a small 1.5 acre orchard of primarily cider apple varieties, and Brix Cider also harvests and purchases apples from several other local orchards for its hard cider business. Carandale Fruit Farm specializes in strawberries. They also grow aronia berries and black currants, and they have an experimental plot where they are growing dozens of uncommon fruit crops. Blind Giant Farm has a large garden, a sugar bush, and 40 acres of foraging land. Lehman Family Farms is a 120 acre farm where Abbie Lehman has started foraging professionally after years of passionate interest.

Summary:

Uncommon perennial fruits and wild crafted products offer unique sustainability potential, but limited information about their potential uses makes them difficult crops to market.  This project will evaluate the potential of 12 uncommon crops and wild crafted products for use in the craft beverage industry. The project’s experienced team of farmers and researchers will develop test batches (60 gallons each) of hard cider-based products that incorporate seaberry, aronia, black currant, cornelian cherry, wild plum, cherry plum, quince, wild black cherry, autumn olive, highbush cranberry, burr oak, and American Elderberry.   The test batches will be evaluated by 600 consumers through online and paper surveys at the Brix Cider tasting room.  Survey results, recipe notes, and growers’ qualitative descriptions of opportunities and challenges with each crop will be shared in an online database.  At two project outreach events, growers and craft beverage producers will have the opportunity to see the results, taste the finished products, and network to develop sales relationships.  This project will contribute to sustainable agriculture through market expansion of diverse, perennial crops that can form an increasing part of vibrant rural landscapes and communities.

Project Objectives:

The overall goal of this project is to assess the feasibility of expanding markets for 12 perennial crops and foraged plants through the craft beverage industry. Under this goal, we have the following objectives:

  1. Develop qualitative descriptions of challenges and opportunities related to each crop from a horticultural or foraging perspective
  2. Produce 12X60 gallon test batches of hard cider that incorporate each the uncommon crops
  3. Assess consumer perceptions of the finished products through tasting room surveys
  4. Disseminate findings through online informational materials and through two tasting events that include growers and craft beverage producers

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Cory Secher - Producer
  • Bergere Stevenson - Producer
  • Abbie Lehman

Research

Materials and methods:

Fruits selected for research are based on current knowledge of horticultural or foraging suitability as well as the flavor profile needed to make a good hard cider product. Brix Orchard will provide all apple cider to be used in the fermentation process. Between 5 and 20% of the juice volume will come from the experimental fruit, depending on flavor intensity, and the remaining juice volume will be from apples.  The batch size will be 60 gallons.  Fermentations will take approximately 6 weeks to create a final product with no residual sugars.  With 3 fermentation tanks, 12 varieties of fruits can be completed in approximately 6 months.

In developing qualitative descriptions of challenges and opportunities with each fruit, the participating farmers will draw from their existing knowledge, previous research, and experience in growing and/or harvesting each crop.  They will discuss the economics of growing or attaining each fruit, yield considerations, pest considerations, disease considerations, and environmental sustainability considerations.

The finished products will be made available in the Brix Cider tasting room, and consumers will be encouraged to try the ciders and rate their perceptions of them in an online survey.   Survey questions will rate the intensity of different flavor attributes and the desirability of those flavor attributes.  Drawing from previous experience as a researcher, Matt Raboin will lead the survey development and analysis of results.  We anticipate a robust sample of 200-300 responses for each product.

The qualitative crop descriptions, detailed recipe notes, and the survey results will be compiled into an online database where each crop will have a separate web page and description.  The feasibility considerations of each crop combined with the consumer perceptions of flavor based on the recipes will give growers and craft beverage producers useful information for developing their own products and markets.

Research results and discussion:

We surpassed our original plan and brought in 14 uncommon crops for cider production (instead of the original 12 from the proposal).  Originally we were going to process the majority of the ciders in year 1, but many of the fruits did not produce anything that year such that we had a very limited number of fruits to work with.  In year 2, Carandale Fruit Farm had a much better year for some uncommon fruits such that we were able to purchase and process what we needed and a little more.  The crops we have worked with so far include:

Black Currant

Saskatoon

Sapalta Plums

Seaberry

Underwood plums

Elderberry

Cornelian Cherry

Aronia

Persimmons

Wild Black Cherry

Wild Bergamont

Elderflower

Blackcaps

Wild Blackberries

Eight of ciders are completed as 50 gallon batches and have been tested out while the last four are still in the works and will be ready by spring 2021.

Our original tasting and testing plans were not possible during the COVID-19 pandemic since they required in person tasting, and in person tastings were prohibited by our local health department during the pandemic (for good reason).  We will instead be sending out an online survey to people who have purchased our ciders made with the experimental fruits to ask for their feedback.  We have a database of 3,000 customers from which we hope to get at least a 10 percent response rate on the survey.  Looking back at the original language in the proposal, this actually doesn’t read like a departure from our original plan, so there is no need to edit the written methods. 

We are now planning to finish project activities in summer 2021.

Participation Summary
4 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Thousands of customers at Brix Cider have been able to try ciders made with fruits that they likely never tried before and learn about the fruits through product descriptions.

Participation Summary

2 Farmers
2 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Delays in the project caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have kept us from reaching our outreach objectives so far.  We plan to create online content and host outside field days during the summer of 2021 to meet the original outreach targets of the project.  So far we have produced 8 of the finished ciders (50 gallons each) and tested them out through sales to customers.

Learning Outcomes

3 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Lessons Learned:

So far we have found a few uncommon crops that we believe have potential for more use through Brix Cider and other craft beverage businesses.  There are also a few uncommon crops that we think we will rule out for future use, either because we weren’t impressed with the final product or because production constraints led to feasibility concerns for producing at larger scales.  We will provide detailed findings in upcoming outreach materials.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.