Jeff Zeitler, co-owner of Urban Forage Winery & Cider House, isn’t your typical farmer. With a focus on what he calls “urban agriculture,” he strives to crowdsource all of his ingredients from the landscape around him. But urban areas have limited green space to grow fruit on a large scale, which is how he came up with a unique sourcing strategy: establish an urban orchard by giving away cider apple trees to residents nearby the winery and cider house.
This year, Zeitler has over a dozen trees in planters ready to relocate at area homes, but only for yards that fit the following requirements: owners of the residence who have been there for at least three years, in or adjacent to the 55406 zip code, with sunny space in the front or side yard, and with “no angry dogs that will attack me,” laughs Zeitler.
The idea to establish an orchard in the city has numerous benefits, one of which is the general absence of hungry deer. Unfortunately, he learned this lesson the hard way a few years back.
“I planted a bunch in the suburbs in a woody area, and they were all eaten by deer,” he recalls. “This is the third time I’m doing this, so I’m still learning as I go.” But in order to protect the trees from a common city menace—rabbits—Zeitler cages the bottom when they’re planted.
Another benefit to planting in the city? The proximity to other apple trees, allowing for cross-pollination. In the past, Zeitler could only plant in yards with enough space for two or more apple trees. But since his network of cider trees has grown in the area, they’re all close enough that a yard could host a single tree.
“The reality is, now that I’ve been doing this, there are apple trees all over the place,” he says. Zeitler himself has planted about twelve trees so far, and hopes to plant another couple dozen over the next few years.
Though most varieties of cider apple that Zeitler plants are spitters, there are some that are edible, like Golden Russet. But Zeitler sees that people are generally more interested in being apart of the process than getting their own apples.
“People are curious about them, they want to know more about these apples that are hard to find,” he says. “I think it makes people more excited about having a cider apple trees.”
As for the work that goes into them, Zeitler takes care of the grafting himself before planting them. After that, it’s just a matter of watering and basic tending.
“They are custom-grafted trees by me. I just need to find a home for them.”
If you live in the area and are interested in hosting an Urban Forage cider apple tree, you can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.