Family farm in Clarington grows apples and makes cider

Photograph supplied by the Geissbergers

Family and friends who work to make the cider

“I used to take my grandkids with me to the family farm when it was time to clean out the mill, I would let my grandsons take all the extra apple leftovers and feed the cows and they loved it,” says Joe VanBeek, a man who worked for the Geissbergers at their family farm for over 30 years.

The Geissbergers are no strangers to Oshawa, they have had their feet planted here since 1925, when grandpa – Hans Geissberger came to Canada.

Hans Geissberger and his wife Emma came from Argos, Switzerland. Right away, they bought a dairy farm and started a family in Clarington.

Grandpa Geissberger was a dairyman but on their property was a small apple orchard. He started to collect the apples off the trees, even off the ground and began to make something out of them.

“No matter what the apples looked like, we would pick them up and use them to make the cider,” says Gord Geissberger, a grandson of Hans Sr. “Grandpa never let anything go to waste.”

But Grandpa Geissberger couldn’t do it on his own. A cousin of the family helped out, Max Hebeisen. He was a cousin of Hans Geissberger Jr., the son of Hans. Max was also the brains behind the first ever cider mill. Hebeisen was a craftsman from Switzerland, handy in all mechanics and wood working.

He had designed the family’s first-ever cider mill out of wood and steel.

Photograph supplied by the Geissbergers

“We would use mother’s tea cloths as a strainer for the apples,” says Garry Geissberger, another grandson of Hans Sr.

“That’s how we did it back then, but it’s a completely different system now as it was when we were little,” says Gord.

The grandsons now run the family farm after their grandfather who passed in 1992 and their father’s death in 2006.

Since their father’s death, they’ve had to upgrade machines, keep up with health regulations and change the ways of cider making.

In 2012, the family upgraded the mill to a more modern and energy sufficient mill.

A day in the life of cider making changed completely when they upgraded.

“Farmers used to come from far and wide to have their apples pressed in our machine,” says Garry.

One farmer used to come from two and half hours away. The first day he would come drop off the apples then drive home. He would come back the next day and pick up the cider, says Gord.

Now with the new mobile cider mill, Garry and Gord can travel to the farms and press their apples and have cider ready for the farmers in less than day.

“What we now produce in one day is what we use to produce in 3 or 4 days,” says Garry.

Even with upgrade to the mobile mill, their days are long and tiring.

“Our days would consist of 10-14 hour days, from travelling to setting up, to cleaning up. It wasn’t easy,” says Garry.

Garry and Gord travel all across Ontario. They visit farms ranging from Kingston, all the way to Port Elgin.

“It’s a lot of work, you think it would be easy, just to pull in the machine and then start pressing but there’s a lot more steps than that,” says Gord.

It takes about two hours to set up, which includes: meeting the farmers, figuring out where to put the mill, and seeing where the tractor can fit to bring in the apples.

Finding the right place to put the mill is very important because you need to be aware of where the waste is going, says Gord.

“We were at the Brooklin fair one year, and we were pressing apples for families to watch and learn. We had thought we had put it in the right spot, but it turns out our waste was going straight to the dog show down the hill,” says Garry, as he chuckles.

The next step is making the cider, which usually takes about six hours.

Before putting apples in the mill, the mill needs to be sanitized. Once the mill is sanitized, the apples can start the process of being pressed.

After the product is finished and the day is over, it’s time to clean up. Cleaning up is another job which takes about two more hours. The mill needs to be sanitized and washed down and the waste needs to be disposed. Usually the farmers use the leftovers to feed the animals on the farm, or it gets used for compost.

“You think your day is over, but after cleaning up, you have the trip home, and you cross your fingers that you don’t break down,” says Gord.

The new mobile mill was an upgrade for the Geissbergers.

The first cider mill was made from wood and steel, which worked back then but overtime wood can trap bacteria which can cause people to become ill. The mobile mill was an upgrade because it was safer, better for the economy, and a more energy efficient machine.

“The old mill that we used made the same tasting cider, but the cider would only have a shelf life of 14 days unless you freeze it,” says Garry.

Now using the mobile mill, the cider we make has a shelf life of three months once it’s opened, and a one-year shelf life when unopened, says Gord.

The mobile mill is also better for the economy because it reduces the number of greenhouse gases.

Using the older mill, the only other option to keeping the apple cider fresh is to freeze it or keep it refrigerated, which uses electricity.

“The third main reason behind greenhouse gases is electricity,” says Gord, who learned that information from environmentalists when they were upgrading their mill.

Now with the new mill, the apple cider has a shelf life long enough so freezing or refrigeration of the cider isn’t necessary.

The new ‘bag and box’ routine is also better for the environment because the bags and boxes are FSG approved.

Photograph supplied by the Geissbergers

FSG is a company that partners with organizations to improve the sustainability of the world’s natural resources. They make sure the environment stays healthy and lives on.

“Everything is FSG approved with our bag and box routine and it saves the environment, so it’s a win for everybody,” says Garry.

The new cider mill makes accessibility a lot easier for the brothers. “We can now travel with the mobile cider mill to make it easier for farmers who live far away,” says Garry. The old cider mill was stationary, it was not so easy to roll around.

“I remember when the season was over, and we had to roll it away till next season. We had to lift up the one side and put pipes under it, so we could roll the mill, but even then, we had run from back to front putting the pipe underneath to keep it rolling,” says Gord.

“It was a pain in the butt,” says Garry.

Another bonus to the upgrade was the speed of the machine, says Gord. “We can produce three times the amount of cider in one day as we could with the older mill,” explains Gord.

Although with the new mill, we only need three guys working the machine at all times. This was upsetting because we had a bunch of guys working with us before, says Garry.

“We had our friends from high school, who are now retired, helping us with the older mill,” says Gord. “The older mill needed at least six guys working it at one time, and it was like a family, they loved it.”

VanBeek, a long-time friend of the Geissberger’s says, ““I loved working the presser because I could do whatever I wanted up there.”

With the mobile cider mill, the brothers are able to work all year long.

“We usually produce about 120,000 litres of cider a season,” says Garry.

With the old mill, the season use to run from September to December, but now the brothers have constant access to the mill.

“It gets a little slower during January, February but overall it’s all year long and it gets quite busy in October,” says Garry.

The family has been producing cider for over 40 years and are still creating new ideas.

“You couldn’t ask for kinder, more honest people to work with,” says VanBeek. “And as it goes for grandpa Geissberger, he was one good soul.”

What started as a backyard hobby for a small family has turned into something successful, environmentally friendly and delicious.