The late summer is prime time to experience the bounty of Michigan’s farm land, especially throughout the orchard countryside. The Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market team had the pleasure to stop by Understory Farm & Orchard, which is owned and operated by Matt Steele and Chanterelle Vogtmann in Bangor, Michigan.
Understory Farm & Orchard sits on 20 acres of apple, pear, and cherry trees, several vegetable plots, a barn with a century old cider press, and more. Pulling up to the farm, we heard Matt prepping the traditional cider press in the barn, in anticipation of bringing their increasingly popular unpasteurized pear apple cider to the Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market the next morning. Understory focuses on bringing sustainably-grown and organically-minded fruits, heirloom vegetables, eggs, flowers, cider, and herbs to farmers’ markets in the southwest-Michigan area, while also offering Community Supported Agriculture (C.S.A.) shares. With the support of several interns, and years’ worth of experience, Understory also manages several orchards within the surrounding area.
Chanterelle greeted us and put us to work right away, equipping us with fruit picking bags that we strapped to our chests and sent us out to help fill a large wooden orchard crate with apples. We were told that several years ago, a large fire damaged portions of the farm before Understory took over, but thankfully much of the orchard was unharmed, including the original cider mill and the mature fruit trees. We helped the staff unload the harvested apples onto a conveyor belt which washed and tumbled the fruit into a large grinder where Matt then shoveled the pulp onto large sheets of cheese cloth. Several pulp-filled sheets are then stacked on top of each other underneath a large wooden press which must be turned by hand. Gallon jugs were being prepared near-by for the fresh cider to be funneled into, and we took no hesitation in sampling a healthy serving for ourselves.
Michigan farm land can provide a vastly wonderful variety of food, and with that, great cultural traditions to which Understory has pledged to encourage and preserve. You can find Understory Farm & Orchard on Facebook, as well as at the 100-Mile Market and the Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market. Check out the videos to see how your farm fresh cider was made, and be sure to introduce yourself to the Understory crew at your local market!
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