Trailblazers 2016: Mike and Gretchen Perbix of Sweetland Orchard


Mike and Gretchen Perbix // Photo by Kara Larson, Make It Minnesota

Minnesota’s cider scene is flourishing. In 2015, cidermakers made 100,000 gallons of cider from 33,333 bushels of Minnesota-grown apples. By 2019, they are projected to make upwards of 400,000 gallons of cider, which would require an additional 100,000 bushels of apples. Though the demand for cider apple varieties is rising, Minnesota apple growers are reluctant to plant cider varieties that are untested in the state’s growing areas.

To help apple growers plant cider varieties with greater confidence, Mike and Gretchen Perbix of Sweetland Orchard in Webster, Minnesota, got to work. The husband and wife duo drafted a successful grant proposal that aims to assess the suitability of growing 12 cider apple varieties at eight different orchards around Minnesota. The Perbixes are the administrators of the $32,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and are charged with collecting growth data from each of the orchards, writing reports, and disseminating the information.

By 2018, the eight orchards, including Sweetland, will have cider varieties like Dabinett, Yarlington Mill, Foxwhelp, Kingston Black, and Chisel Jersey in the ground. If the study proves fruitful, and Minnesota’s 200-plus orchards start planting cider varieties, it could change the landscape of Minnesota’s cider scene in profound ways.

At the Perbix’s orchard, the couple are setting an example by taking their role as stewards of the land seriously. In order to rely on as few harmful external inputs as possible, they use an integrated pest management (IPM) approach to growing the 49 different apple varieties on their orchard. Instead of spraying their orchard with synthetic pesticides whether it needs it or not, the Perbixes use simple landscaping techniques and organic treatments to keep pests at bay, and only treat their trees with synthetic pesticides if absolutely necessary.

Mike and Gretchen are dedicated to growing the state’s cider industry not only through research and land stewardship, but also through supporting the newly formed Minnesota Cider Guild, of which Sweetland is a founding member and Gretchen serves as the president of the interim board. This dedication to advancing the industry has put them at the forefront of Minnesota cider and will likely keep them there in the years to come.

Our mission at The Growler is to tell stories that inspire progress in local food, drink, and culture. And in that spirit as part of our 2016 Kind-Of-A-Big-Deal Issue, we felt the need to point out 25 people, ideas, businesses, and organizations who have done necessary, important, and groundbreaking work in 2016. See the rest of our 2016 Trailblazers here.

About Brian Kaufenberg

Brian Kaufenberg is the editor-in-chief of The Growler Magazine.

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