Wyoming's only cidery developed to mitigate human-animal conflicts
A couple of falls ago, Ian McGregor was driving through Jackson Hole and he would see all these crab apples on the ground. "Seeing them all fall to the ground and become applesauce in people's driveways or sludge covering people's cars, it just seemed like a waste."
McGregor and his friend Orion Bellorado are food startup entrepreneurs so both of their minds went to creating something edible from these apples rather than letting them go to waste. Bellaroda brought it up to his roommate who worked at the Teton County Conservation District at the time. Because of the drought, they were facing an issue where bears were eating the crabapples instead of berries and encountering humans.
"What's the one thing we could do to reduce bear-human conflict? And the response was, get rid of every crab apple tree in Teton County," said Morgan Graham, the GIS and wildlife specialist at Teton Conservation District.
Obviously, that idea was not realistic. But when Bellorado submitted a grant proposal to harvest apples and make it into cider, Graham said, "it was perfect timing."
For the next three years, the conservation district helped fund the development of a cidery. Orion Bellorado said people liked the idea.
"We'd walk up and knock on doors and we'd say, 'Hello, we're harvesting apples to save berries, blah, blah, blah', and then, depending on that reaction, like, 'Hey, we're harvesting apples to make booze.' If they didn't like the first explanation they usually liked the second," said Bellorado.
Once they had permission, they would go around and pick the apples themselves. And just like that, Farmstead Cider was born. It's been about four years since then and McGregor said the extreme climate of the area is turning out to be a benefit.
"The temperature swings from the cold nights to the hot days [and produces] higher sugar quantities. So you have a higher octane cider with more flavor options, more flavor potential," he said. "And that's really exciting. Actually, in a weird way, our climate might be perfect for growing unique cider apples. It's just something that people weren't doing that much."
The cidery is currently the only one in the state, which they say is surprising. They think the success of their business could be an example for others in the state.
"We're trying to help people realize that really small-scale nano-sized businesses like ourselves can operate as an agricultural business in a town that's losing its agricultural heritage pretty quickly," said McGregor. "And the rest of the state also might be able to embrace the potential of growing other crops than some of the more standard stereotypical crops and in animals, livestock that's associated with Wyoming."
Even with their success, they don't want to grow too large. They showed me around their cidery where all the action happens. It's just three rooms and one of those is the tasting room.
"We are learning all the things we want in our dream cidery by being forced to function in a less than ideal space," McGregor said. "We're learning where we need to go for it and where we can trim the fat and not have certain things."
They love that they've found a community. There are over 250 harvest helpers signed up to let them pick apples on their property each year to help mitigate animal-human conflict. But does it actually help the problem?
"We don't have any data to really make that correlation," answered Mike Boyce, Wyoming Game and Fish's Jackson regional large carnivore biologist. "If there's any way that bear attractants can be removed and used for cider or anything else, then that's going to be a good thing. It's gonna help us in preventing some conflicts."
Back at the taproom, Bellorado poured some cider into a glass. He said that the initial grant gave them a reason and now a functioning business model.
"We'd be doing something that is less inspiring, and we probably wouldn't be doing it, to be honest."