Manitoba chicken farmer juiced up about apples

Myron Love
February 11, 2010
By Myron Love
Manitoba is certainly not known as a major apple producer. The province has plenty of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and saskatoons, but commercial apple production doesn’t necessarily work there.

That hasn’t deterred an entrepreneurial southern Manitoba chicken farmer from developing a sideline producing locally-made apple cider for the marketplace.

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At Apple Junction Sweet Apple Cider, the apples are first put through a wash machine.
 
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The Ungers sell their Apple Junction Sweet Apple Cider through a supermarket in Steinbach, Man., an organic bakery in Winnipeg, Man., and a weekly summer farmers’ market in St. Norbert, Man.
 
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Tony Unger explains that the farm uses Manitoba-grown apples, as long as they are available. They also bring in a trailer load or two of apples from B.C. each year. 
 
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After the apples are ground up, they are put into the press. After, the juice/cider is pasteurized, cooled and put in a refrigerator until it is bottled.
 
Tony and Debbie Unger, the producers of Apple Junction Sweet Apple Cider, have been raising chickens just southeast of Winnipeg, Man., for the past 20 years. About six years ago, they decided to diversify and start a commercial bakery on their property.

“It was about that time that friends of ours offered us an apple press that they had had for 15 years or so,” Tony recalls. “To our knowledge, it is the only apple press in Manitoba. It was a hobby for them.”

In their friends’ hobby, the Ungers saw an opportunity. “We thought that making apple cider would go well with our bakery,” he says. “There are a number of bakeries in the United States and Canada that also produce cider.”

The Ungers put their apples first through a wash machine. The fruit then travels up a hopper into the grinder and then into the press. The product is subsequently pasteurized, cooled and put in a refrigerator until the juice/cider is bottled.

“We use Manitoba-grown apples, as long as they are available,” Unger says. “We buy from private growers and Hutterite colonies. We generally bring in a trailer load or two from British Columbia.”

He observes that most apples make for good juice, but the best ones are Trail, Goodland, Norland and Norkent.

Apple Junction Sweet Apple Cider’s production period is the summer, fall and early winter. “We started last summer at the beginning of August,” Unger says. “Next year, we are going to start in early June.”

For most of their season, the Ungers press apples every second week. As Christmas nears, they begin pressing on a weekly basis. In addition to pressing apples for their own needs, they also have about 400 customers for whom they provide custom pressing services – for a minimum charge.

“We could produce a lot more if we had the orders,” Unger says. “We could produce up to 400 gallons in a day.”

Currently, the Ungers sell their cider through a supermarket in the nearby community of Steinbach, an organic bakery in Winnipeg and a weekly summer farmers’ market in St. Norbert (on the southern edge of Winnipeg). They are also interested in selling their product in Manitoba schools as an alternative to soft drinks.

“Our sales are increasing every year,” Unger says.  “This is still new for most Manitobans since we don’t grow a lot of apples here.”

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