Sep 21, 2010Cleveland still has Grobe
By Derrek Sigler, Assistant Editor
Grobe Fruit Farms is a short drive from the town of Elyria, Ohio, and is roughly 30 minutes from downtown Cleveland. Allen Grobe and his wife Laurie are the fifth generation to farm at this location over the past 100 years.
The family owns and farms 650 acres: 130 acres of apples and a smaller acreage of cherries, peaches, pears, plums and brambles. They have another 120 acres in vegetable production. The remainder is farmed for grain. They have a seasonal farm market from July through March, a commercial packing line for apples and a commercial cider mill and bottling plant.
“It seems that the season for cider gets longer each year,” said Laurie Grobe with a laugh. “It traditionally runs from September to March, but I’ve started as early as June!”
She has to get an early start. Grobe Fruit Farms produces more than 130,000 gallons of cider a year. They produce cider under their own label and under several others, depending on the market and customer.
“We usually use our seconds for cider,” Laurie said. “Last year, that ended up being more than we planned because we had some bad hail damage.”
Several years ago, they were like many other cider-producing farms. They’d press their cider and then ship it to a dairy to be pasteurized. That worked well until the local dairy decided to close its doors. Where others might have seen this as an obstacle, the Grobes saw an opportunity. They purchased the pasteurization and bottling facilities and moved them to their farm.
Now cider production is a full-time gig for Laurie. It starts with the pressing room, where apples are cut and blended before going into the press. From the press, the juice is piped to a tank room, where it is chilled and stored to allow sediments to settle to the bottom of the tank.
“I like very clear cider,” Laurie said. “I only use the cider in the top two-thirds of the tank. Some of our customers may want a little darker cider, and I can do that. But for me, I like my cider clear. It may waste a little, but it’s hard to argue with the results.”
The cider is piped to the pasteurizing room, where it is pasteurized and immediately put into cold storage to chill.
“The secret to getting that good, sweet, tangy taste that you get from unpasteurized cider is to chill it immediately after it is pasteurized,” she said.
From the cooling tanks, the cider is bottled, packed and ready to ship to market.
Not just cider
The Grobes grow Red Delicious, Spartan, Honeycrisp, Empire and Fuji amongst other varieties. The Fujis are part of a super spindle growing system that Grobe was trying for the first time. Allen had planned the system for quite a while and put it in this spring. The only problem so far has been the rain. Quite often, you hear growers saying they haven’t got enough rain, but Allen wishes it would stop. The leaves of his new Fuji trees were curled tight and growth had slowed as the trees planted on M.9 rootstock struggled to recover from the deluge of rainfall that had hit the area in recent weeks.
Also hit hard by the rains were the vegetables. The Grobes have sweet corn, squash, various peppers, tomatoes and other veggies spread out across their farm. Only the tomatoes under the high tunnel were immune to the weather.
Indications of what’s to come for the Grobes can be found by looking at the higher density growing systems they were installing for apple growing. Many growers are switching to higher density systems to maximize production from the space they have and remain competitive with other markets. The Grobes are no different.