Ag-proctors Gunnar Simons and junior Julianna Lee came up with a fun idea a couple of years ago: How about making cider using apples grown on some trees recently-added to campus? The two ag-proctors were awarded a Gilchrist Environmental Fellowship last year to develop their idea, and last weekend the first 10-gallon batch of apple cider was produced and declared "delicious" by taste-testers on hand for the launch of the handmade cider press.
Ag-proctors are student leaders in Loomis' Sustainable Agriculture Program, and the Gilchrist Fellowships are given to students and other school community members to put their ideas for environmental stewardship into action.
After doing some research and planning last winter, Gunnar and Julianna crafted the press in the spring with the help of Gratia Lee, director of the Sustainable Ag Program, and Pete Gwyn, director of Loomis' Backcountry Program.
"Parts of the building process required a lot of physical strength, like when we were driving the six in screws into the [wooden] 4x4s," Gunnar recalled. He said he appreciated Pete's lending his construction expertise to the project.
In the process of developing their idea, Julianna and Gunnar connected with a Loomis alumni family that own Rogers Orchards in Southington, Conn. Rogers Orchards committed to making a generous one-time donation of 30 bushels of apples for the project's launch this fall.
Last week, with Gratia's help and assistance from other Ag Program students, Gunnar and Julianna collected the donated apples, and tested their cider press before its official unveiling on Saturday, October 7.
Transporting 30 bushels of apples is not an easy task, Gratia said. A 30-bushel load of apples weighs 1,500 pounds and is enough to make 90 gallons of cider. The two-step cider-making process involves first creating an apple mash by grinding the apples in an in-sink garbage disposal unit acquired for that purpose. Afterwards, the mash is tamped down in the wooden press to squeeze out the cider.
While the process is slow — the students and Gratia were able to press 10 gallons on Saturday afternoon — the outcome was declared a success by all who sampled the cider.
"Watching everything come together was a really great feeling," Gunnar said.
Bees and other insects drawn to the sweet apple mash are a bit of a nuisance and hamper production speed. But Gratia said the Ag Program will continue to produce cider for as long as the donated apples hold out this year. Once the Loomis trees mature and produce more fruit, the Ag Program intends to use the school's harvest for cider and possibly make some available for sale to the community.
For more information about Loomis' Sustainable Agriculture Program, connect to the webpage on the Loomis Chaffee website or contact Gratia Lee.