A fire that destroyed Manitoba’s only government-permitted apple press this spring means customers with bags of backyard apples will be hard pressed to find anywhere to process them later this summer.
Apple Junction, owned by John Boy Farms at Landmark, along with Mom’s Country Pantry at the same site burned to the ground April 22 in a fire investigators determined was related to electrical wiring.
Apple Junction was the only processing facility in Manitoba with a permit to process fresh-pressed apple cider and a popular fall jaunt to the countryside for some 500 walk-in customers.
Owned and operated by the Cote family since 2011, the family also processed its own apples and sold apple cider and syrup retail and at farmers’ markets including Le Marché St. Norbert Farmers’ Market.
The Ste. Agathe family spokesman Jean-Guy Cote said they’re very sorry to have to tell customers the 2014 year is lost.
“Unfortunately, 2014 is going to be a writeoff for other people’s crops. They’ll have to find other uses for them as best they can,” said Cote.
Customers loved to line up and chat while their small volumes of apples rumbled through the press. It’s as much a loss of an excuse to visit the countryside as it is the loss of the province’s only apple-processing capacity.
The Cotes themselves did have enough juice processed and frozen left over from 2013 to be able to continue making John Boy Farms apple cider and syrup for this year’s sales
Cote said he and his family haven’t yet decided whether to rebuild and equip a second apple press. They’ll need to crunch some numbers and look at what insurance may cover, he said.
If they do go ahead, they’d move the site from Landmark to their own market garden farm at Ste. Agathe. There are other considerations including special flood protection for that area, he said.
“We’d definitely like to see the apple press business continue in some capacity but we’ll have to see,” he said.
“There’s several options to see if we can save it. We’re working to come up with a solution. If the economics are there we’re going to make it happen.”
The Cotes annually processed anywhere from 50,000 to 80,000 lbs. of apples annually, including those they grow in their own orchard.
Jean-Guy and Ainsley Cote are fifth-generation owners of their Ste. Agathe farm which they operate with Jean-Guy’s parents Rita and Emile.
The cider mill was more than 15 years old.