"Musings are ideas that inspire imagination and action for a better world"

- Susan Rockefeller
Subscribe to
our newsletter

Spotlight On:

Abandoned Cider

What's the Story?

When Martin Bernstein bought a farm in the Catskills several years ago, he didn’t know much about the intricacies of apples. It wasn’t until he grew tired of baking pies and canning applesauce that he moved onto making cider, and his passion for the craft was born with Abandoned Cider.

How are they different?

Most big brand hard ciders are made from concentrate. Abandoned Cider uses whole wild apples that they crowdsource to create the perfect balanced ciders. If you have an apple tree in your backyard, they will trade you your apples in exchange for hard cider.

What inspires us?

By making cider from otherwise deserted or rejected apples, Abandoned Cider is in its small way helping to mitigate our country’s massive food waste issue and use what Earth has provided.

Q&A

Martin Bernstein

Co-Founder, Abandoned Cider

Most of the apples we find at the grocery store are clones of original varieties. These apples are great for eating and baking, but, as with grapes for making wine, the apples needed to make an amazing cider are a completely different variety. That’s one thing Martin Bernstein learned when he bought a 100+ year old orchard in New York’s Hudson Valley and began creating Abandoned Cider with co-founder Eric Childs. Unlike many of the newer commercial apple farms in New York, Bernstein’s orchard was home to many old apple varieties he had never heard of. These apples include wild varieties that produce ciders with vastly different flavor profiles than those that have been traditionally cloned. 

How did you get started working with apple trees and specifically wanting to focus on apple genetics?

My wife and I bought a farm in the Catskills several years ago from a guy who was 98 at the time. He was born at this farm. His father settled it in the late 1800s and they planted all the apple trees. I knew very little about apples at that point but it really piqued my interest that we suddenly had access to this orchard with really old apple varieties I’d never heard of. I went down the Google rabbit hole finding out the history of each of these apples. I was making apple pies and applesauce and it didn’t really do it for me. But then I started making hard cider and noticed that there were really different results depending on which apples I used. That’s what got me started. In the same way that a lot of wine makers are interested in using specific wine grapes.

Founder Martin Bernstein and Eric Childs

What’s the most interesting fact you’ve learned so far about apples?

There are so many. The basic fact that I try to teach everybody is that most apple varieties are clones. So through the process of clonal crafting, the Granny Smith, Gala, Fuji and all of the varieties that we know and love, come from trees that are clones from the original. You can’t take a Gala and pollinate it with a Fuji and expect to get an apple that tastes like a cross between them. That doesn’t work. Apples are extremely heterozygous. There are many, many genes in the apple that dictate flavor, size, color and growth patterns. That is not the case with a lot of fruit and veggies. For example, tomatoes are not very heterozygous. If you cross a red tomato and a yellow tomato, you’ll get an orange tomato. When you plant a seed of an apple, you have no idea what’s going to come out of it. You could get the most flavorless apple that tastes like a potato. Or you could get the most delicious, nutritious and beautiful apple. This is important because we use a lot of wild apples that are not bred for sweetness. We’re just using what’s made it in the wild, and produce a wide variety of apples with a wide variety of flavors.

What’s the biggest challenge in apple farming? What role has climate change played?

A lot of the apple varieties that are being grown in the Hudson Valley today are not very well suited to the climate that is coming. We don’t know what exactly is coming, but we know that it’s going to be different. Planting an apple tree of a certain variety that does well now in the Hudson Valley may not be the smartest idea seeing as in 20-25 years when that apple tree is fully mature, we will have a very different climate. For any farmer growing crops that take a long time to mature, it’s a gamble because you’re trying to understand what the challenges will be in 20-30 years from now. One of the biggest pressures right now is the wide variety of fungi that flourish in wet and humid conditions. In the last 3-4 years, wild trees are not fairing very well. We’re also seeing invasive species that have taken hold in the northeast that will probably decimate many orchards over the coming years. There have always been invasive species, but with climate change, there’s an added pressure and the immune systems of the trees will be weaker. 

Your model of collecting abandoned apples is a solution to our country’s massive food waste issue. Can you discuss the work you do as it relates to combating food waste?

While that wasn’t the driving force, it is a huge bonus and added benefit that we’re able to make use of a “natural resource” that nobody else is interested in using. We do it mostly because there are very few commercial orchards that are growing the heirloom variety that we use in our ciders. So it’s a bonus that we’re using abandoned orchard apples, but our main goal is to make a delicious cider with apples that are actually suitable for cider. We also crowdsource a lot of our apples. People who have apple trees in their backyards can pick them and bring them to us and we will give them cider in exchange. 

Where do most of the apples you use come from?

The bulk of the volume of apples that we use come from family farms that are operating as commercial orchards. The bulk does not come from abandoned orchards, but the widest variety does. 

Your co-founder Eric is a Chinese tea specialist and holds a degree in wine education from the International Wine Center. How is wine similar to hard cider?

Cider is wine, essentially. There is very little difference in the methods used to produce cider over wine. The biggest difference, of course, is the fruit used. The method of cider making that we employ is the common wine making method. We crush the whole fruit, take that juice, ferment it and age it and then bottle it. It is essentially wine making. Where we differ a bit from wine is what we call adjunct or added flavors. We do this only for one of our ciders—the hopped cider. Even though it’s using hops, it’s not a beer thing; it’s more of a kombucha thing. We take whole flower hops and steep them in our cider for a certain amount of time and then pull it out before canning or bottling. 

How do you feel Covid-19 has reshaped our food system? Have you seen an increase in people buying locally, especially where you are in the Hudson Valley?

That’s probably the main change I’ve seen. It’s reshaping and will continue to reshape our food system. I am seeing a lot more people interested in buying local food and beverage for sure. I go to the Kingston farmers market every Saturday and it is absolutely packed. Our sales have gone up dramatically as well since the pandemic started and I think that’s because people are interested in supporting local businesses but also because they have more time to really think about what they’re putting in their bodies and are doing it more consciously. There is more attention to the way that we live now as opposed to 7 or 8 months ago. 

What makes the perfect cider?

I would avoid using the term “perfect cider” because there are so many cider makers in the U.S. that are making incredible products, but I am constantly surprised and pleased when I taste a new cider from someone else and they’ve used some strange ingredient like earl grey tea or guava. There are so many ways you can innovate and make good ciders and I don’t think there’s a right way or a wrong way. There are plenty of purist cider makers out there that do believe in the perfect cider and that’s fine, but I just don’t subscribe to it. I’m much more interested in beverage innovation. That’s what sets American cider apart from French cider which is very traditional in terms of methods and ingredients. But I do believe that a good cider must use whole apples as opposed to concentrate. I have yet to taste a cider that’s made from concentrate that is good. 

Do you think your business model could be applied to other food/beverages?

Yes, totally. That is happening. There is a brewery that makes beer with discarded bread. There are plenty of bakeries that have leftover bread at the end of the day that can then be used to make beer. There are so many ways to reuse and repurpose “abandoned” products. With the apples we use, it’s really just us and the deer that want those apples. So why not use them to make cider?

Where can people buy your cider?

We are currently distributed in California and Nevada, and New York State, Washington DC, Virginia, Maryland as well as online. Our online store is launching this winter, but people can email us at info@abandonedcider.com and we will ship anywhere.

Share this article

Follow us on social

Spotlight On:

GreenWave

What's the Story?

In 2014, Bren Smith and Emily Stengel founded GreenWave to replicate the regenerative ocean farming model, and scale its ecological and economic benefits. They train regenerative ocean farmers and build viable market opportunities to ensure long-term success, connecting them to buyers in food, agriculture (fertilizer and compost), bioplastics and more.

How are they different?

GreenWave’s polyculture farming system grows a variety of seaweeds and shellfish that require zero input—no freshwater, no fertilizers and no feed. It’s an easy-to-build underwater, vertical garden producing high yields with a small footprint. Plus, the simple design and low cost mean these farms can be replicated quickly.

What inspires us?

In addition to commercial purposes, regenerative ocean farming can be deployed to restore ocean ecosystems and capture blue carbon. GreenWave is also working with the Native Conservancy, the Alaska Conservation Foundation, and other community partners in Southcentral Alaska to use their model to help bring back wild kelp beds and herring stocks—critical sources of income and food security, and an important part of the region’s cultural heritage.

Q&A

Bren Smith

Co-founder, GreenWave

Born and raised in a small fishing village in Newfoundland, Canada, Bren Smith left school at 14 years old and headed out to sea, fishing for tuna, lobster, cod and crab. In the early ’90s, the cod stocks crashed and thousands of fishermen were thrown out of work. He wound up on the Long Island Sound and became an oysterman until taking hard hits from Hurricanes Irene and Sandy. “Suddenly I found myself on the front lines of a climate crisis that had arrived one hundred years earlier than expected,” he says. After exploring and experimenting, Bren founded GreenWave, a regenerative ocean farming model, with Emily Stengel. Imagine an underwater garden running from the surface to the seafloor—home to an abundance of kelp and other seaweed varieties, scallops, mussels, clams and oysters. These ocean crops require zero input, can restore ocean ecosystems, capture blue carbon and create millions of jobs.

How did you get started? What led to founding GreenWave?

I was born and raised in a little fishing village in Newfoundland, Canada. I left school at age 14 and headed out to sea. I fished the Georges Banks and the Grand Banks for tuna and lobster, then headed to the Bering Sea, where I fished cod and crab. But in the early 1990s, the cod stocks crashed back home: thousands of fishermen thrown out of work, boats beached, canneries shuttered. In a search for sustainability, I ended up on Long Island Sound and remade myself as an oysterman. Then in two successive years, Hurricanes Irene and Sandy thrashed the East Coast, destroying my crops and washing my gear out to sea. 

Suddenly I found myself on the front lines of a climate crisis that had arrived one hundred years earlier than expected. I began to reimagine my occupation and farm—experimenting and exploring new designs and new species. In 2014, I co-founded GreenWave with Emily Stengel to replicate the regenerative ocean farming model, and scale its ecological and economic benefits. We want to create a thriving blue-green economy—built and led by ocean farmers—that ensures we all make a living on a living planet. We train regenerative ocean farmers and at the same time, build viable market opportunities to ensure their long-term success. Our goal is to train 10,000 ocean farmers in the next 10 years.

Tell us about your regenerative ocean farming model.

GreenWave’s polyculture farming system grows a mix of seaweeds and shellfish that require zero inputs—no freshwater, no fertilizers, no feed. They simply grow by soaking up nutrients, making it, hands down, the most sustainable form of farming on the planet. Since our farms sit vertically below the surface, they produce high yields with a small footprint. With a low barrier to entry, anyone with 20 acres, a boat, and $20-50K can start their own farm.

The model is easy to replicate. It’s just an underwater scaffolding that’s affordable and easy to build. The simple design and low cost mean these farms can be replicated quickly. It has the potential to revitalize coastal economies by utilizing existing infrastructure and latent capacity in shuttered fishing communities, diversify existing shellfish businesses, and provide a stream of supplemental income for fishermen. Beyond food, diverse markets are opening up for regenerative ocean crops including fertilizer, animal feed, bioplastics and more. In addition to commercial farming, regenerative ocean farming can be deployed for reforestation, to restore ocean ecosystems and capture blue carbon.

Which species are grown and how much does that vary depending on location?

There’s one hard and fast rule for regenerative ocean farming: grow only zero-input species that won’t swim away and don’t need to be fed. Picture the farm as a vertical underwater garden: hurricane-proof anchors on the edges connected by horizontal ropes floating six feet below the surface. From these lines, kelp and other kinds of seaweed grow vertically downward, next to scallops in hanging nets that look like Japanese lanterns and mussels held in suspension in mesh socks. On the seafloor below sit oysters in cages, and then clams buried in the mud bottom. 

On our farm, we’ve experimented with a few different kinds of seaweed, but sugar kelp has emerged as the most productive, delicious and viable native species in southern New England. Sugar kelp (Saccharina latissima) is a prolific and versatile cold-water seagreen (or rather, brown macroalgae) that grows in northern waters across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The regenerative ocean farming model can be adapted for use in other regions with native seaweed and shellfish species.

Doesn’t seaweed harvesting date back to the early 1900s? What were they using it for and why did the industry drop off?

Seaweed harvesting dates back millennia, popping up as a mainstay of the diets of coastal communities and trading partners on every continent. But seaweed is incredibly versatile. As far back as the eighteenth century, coastal economies in Europe and the United States harvested wild kelp to turn into a potassium-rich ash for pottery, glass, soap, and textiles. Irish moss, which is 40 percent carrageenan, was turned into a thickener or stabilizer for processed foods, ranging from chocolate milk to beer. Between 1950 and 1970, Canada became the world’s leading supplier of carrageenan.

In the early 20th century, Asia saw seaweed as a food source, while the U.S. focused on seaweed as an industrial ingredient for fertilizers and chemical weapons. During World War I, California’s wild kelp beds were wiped out, deforested for conversion into acetone and potash for munitions. At its height, the industry employed 1,500 workers on the San Diego docks.

With World War II looming, the U.S. military became increasingly concerned that demand would outstrip supply, both from within the United States and from foreign sources in Japan. This triggered interest in whether seaweed farming could fill the anticipated gap. The Department of Energy invested in research, but focused on producing seaweed on a mass industrial scale with farm designs that were too complicated, capital intensive and expensive to be viable.

That history underscores how critical it is that we build a sustainable seaweed supply and diverse market opportunities to keep regenerative ocean farmers in business. Part of GreenWave’s work is to build strong connections between farmers and buyers across growing sectors like food, agriculture (fertilizer and compost) and bioplastics, as well as emerging opportunities like blue carbon and nitrogen offsets and data harvesting.

What are the main concerns that people have about regenerative ocean farming?

The concerns that come up most often tend to center around aesthetic impact and privatization of the ocean. Countless aquaculture projects suffer quick deaths when communities mobilize in opposition. Regenerative ocean farms have a small footprint while producing a huge amount of food. The model is a win for farmers and a win for local communities. It’s low-impact and designed to tread lightly on the ocean commons. And because it’s mostly underwater, from shore there’s minimal aesthetic impact. Best of all, locals can continue to boat, fish, and swim; the goal is to protect, not privatize, the ocean.

The other question that we often get is whether regenerative ocean farms have a negative impact on endangered species. In more than a decade of farming along the coast, we’ve never had a marine mammal or sea turtle entangled. Our farms are designed to make this a minimal risk.

How many jobs could be created with this model? What has been the general stance on this from the commercial fishing community?

According to the World Bank, farming seaweed in less than 5% of U.S. waters (.1% of the world’s oceans) could create 50 million jobs in direct on-farm employment alone. Using a standard seafood industry secondary employment multiplier of 2:1 suggests 100 million jobs could be created overall, with additional economic opportunities created through processing, value added product production, transportation and marketing.

When I first started farming seaweed, I was getting laughed off the docks. What self-respecting fisherman would want to grow sea vegetables? But over time, many have come around to the idea. They see their catches declining, chasing fewer and fewer fish further out to sea, and they realize it’s time to shift. We’ve had an 11th generation fisherman go through the GreenWave training program. We also have requests to start farms in every coastal state in North America and over 100 countries around the world.

Is this a lucrative model for communities most at risk for hurricanes and massive storm damage?

The regenerative ocean farming model can be a lifeline for the revival of working waterfronts. First, the infrastructure is easy and inexpensive to set up. For fishermen and shellfish farmers, adding kelp cultivation to their business strategy helps to manage risk through crop and market diversification, extend their growing season, and increase revenue. New England has seen rapid expansion of the number of people interested in and actively growing kelp with approximately 100 nearshore small-scale kelp farms securing permits in coastal waters from New York to Maine since 2010, and interest from more than 1,000 people seeking to launch kelp farms or add kelp cultivation to their existing business.

A 20-acre farm growing shellfish and kelp can conservatively produce 130,000 lbs. of kelp and 200,000 lbs. of shellfish, with the capacity to net more than $100,000 on an annual basis. Fishermen see benefits from diversification, too. In Maine, lobstermen who have recently added kelp cultivation to their business report adding $20,000-$57,000 to their annual revenue at harvest time. In addition to all of these direct financial benefits, the model fosters healthy marine ecosystems that can support stocks of other fish species.


How easy is it to set up a local farm? Are certain areas much more difficult to obtain leasing and permitting?

The farm structure itself is easy to set up. Depending on your experience level, a whole farm can be installed in three days. Leasing and permitting, on the other hand, vary wildly depending on a variety of factors. If you are a shellfish farmer, well-acquainted with aquaculture permitting processes and gear types, it may only take a few months to modify your permit and incorporate kelp into your operation. If you are starting from scratch, are unfamiliar with ocean farming, and just want to grow seaweed, it could take 4-18 months to secure a site and permit.

And it really depends on where you want to farm. For instance, Maine has a longstanding commercial seaweed industry, and supportive pathways to permitting. In Connecticut, we had to work with the state legislature in 2012 to create a pathway to permit my farm. In California, the regulatory landscape is very different because the state is so protective of its pristine coastlines. There, we’re seeing tremendous interest in regenerative ocean farming for commercial and restoration purposes, and are working with a coalition of people in the field to demonstrate the ecological and economic benefits of the model and to develop reasonable pathways to get farms in the water. A core part of GreenWave’s work is to support farmers through these complex processes.

What is at stake in the upcoming U.S. election for the future of our oceans?

I was told climate change would be a slow lobster boil, but it’s here and now. The ocean is a place where we can build real climate solutions. No matter which way the wind blows in the upcoming election, we need serious reform in three specific policy areas: ocean habitat restoration, community based fisheries, and restorative ocean farming. With the support of better policies, we can shift the ocean from a resource in crisis into a powerful tool for mitigating climate change, transforming our food system, and ensuring that coastal communities have viable economic opportunities.

What are coastal Indigenous communities currently facing?

Coastal Indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis, and are facing land loss due to rising seas and the decline of marine species. This is happening all over the globe. We’re currently in conversation with community leaders in the U.S., Canada, and New Zealand to identify ways to use the regenerative ocean farming model to support local ecosystems and economies. For instance, we’re working with the Native Conservancy, the Alaska Conservation Foundation, and other community partners in Southcentral Alaska to adopt the model to bring back wild kelp beds and herring stocks. Historically, both species have been critical sources of income and food security, as well as an important part of the region’s cultural heritage.

Are there any plans to expand outside of North America?

While GreenWave’s primary focus over the next 5 years will be to grow the regenerative ocean farming in North America, we’ve had tremendous interest from people around the world—more than 6,000 prospective farmers have reached out to us for help. We’re taking a cautious approach to global work, and are dipping our toes in the water through targeted partnerships with local organizations. To meet the growing demand in North America and beyond, we’re in the process of building out a digital resource platform, which will house tools and information to help farmers from seed to sale.

Share this article

Subscribe To
Our Newsletter

Sign-up for our newsletter and be the first to learn about purpose-driven people and products paving the way for a better world. We seek to be a refuge from digital chaos and promise to e-mail you only twice-a-month with insight and inspiration from those we feature.

xoxo,
Susan Rockefeller