This issue’s interview is with Jim Engelsma of Grand Rapids, Mich. Besides growing outstanding apples, Jim serves on the Michigan Apple Committee’s research subcommittee and is an award-winning cider producer. In this interview, Jim shares his passion for the apple industry and his secret for producing some of the best cider in all of Michigan.
How did you get started in the apple industry?
I was born into an apple growing family. Starting at a young age, I was the one that was often with my dad on the farm. I loved the orchard, and at the age of 14, I talked my dad into “giving” me a row of apple trees. My row was the first on the farm to have irrigation. I learned how to train my row of trees by attending Michigan State University’s (MSU) tree fruit sessions. And, I was always trying to out-produce my father with higher yields and better quality.
What do you think most people don’t know about apples?
I have found that many people do not know how to care for good apples once they have them in their possession. Many retailers display apples at room temperature. Homeowners will store them in a garage or porch in all conditions. If you do not plan on eating your apple today, it needs to be refrigerated.
We hear you won the cider contest at the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable, and Farm Market EXPO! Tell us about your cider and what makes it award winning!
I started making cider for our Saturday farm market back in 1982 when I was 16. Back then I learned that if I mixed just the right apples that I could make very tasty apple cider. It was so good that even friends who said they did not like apple cider would raise their eyebrows in satisfaction. It quickly caught on at our retail market. As our cider was discovered by more and more people, we began to have wholesale customers ask for it. In 2004, we decided to take our cider operation to the wholesale level. We built a new facility and invested in all-new, larger-capacity equipment. We knew that if we could take our standards and make cider on a larger scale we would be successful. Since we have gone wholesale, we have won first place in the Michigan cider competition five times, second place twice, and third place once. I am often asked, “What’s your secret?” I always tell people the truth, “My secret is always the same. We use only apples that are clean and in great condition in a very clean facility.”
Why is research so important to the livelihood of our industry?
Research is very dear to my heart. Apple production is hard work. Adverse weather, labor shortages, changing markets, environmental restrictions and over-supply are just a few of the factors that are associated with bringing a high quality apple to market. We need to take advantage of every opportunity we have through solid research to apply good science and modern technology to our industry so that our future generations will be competitive growers and produce the highest quality apples for an international market.
What’s your favorite apple recipe or simple way to eat apples? Do you have a favorite variety?
I love to eat almost any apples when they are tree ripened. My favorite apple to produce would have to be a Gala. I love the challenges in growing consistently high quality Galas. My favorite apple to market is the Honeycrisp. While it certainly has its challenges, it returns a very nice margin back to the talented grower!
My favorite apple recipe for certain is my late mother Marie’s apple pie recipe. As a child, for as long as I can remember back, my mother would often make two apple pies (I come from a family of seven children). We would eat one sitting around the Saturday morning coffee table (often times aunts and uncles would be there) and the other one after Sunday dinner. When my daughters were quite young, my mother would set them on her kitchen counter and bake with them. Now my daughters make that same pie for us. I actually think it’s better than my cider!
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