20190320_143745

November 5th, 2019

Meet the Maker: Farm Boy Organic Apple Cider & Apple Cider Vinegar

Our makers, farmers, and suppliers are the cornerstone of our business.

Without them, we wouldn’t have the array of beautiful produce that greets you when you walk in our doors, we wouldn’t have the well-stocked grocery shelves with high-quality pantry staples and innovative snacks. We wouldn’t have our premium meat products, our delicious frozen goodies, the freshest dairy, or mouthwatering cheese selection.

They bake our pies, harvest our honey, pick our apples, and churn our ice cream. They work with us to tweak and perfect our products week after week, month after month, so you get the very best.

We love the faces behind our products. They are part of what makes us great, and we’d like to introduce you.


This week we are talking to Shaun Becker, the owner of Filsinger’s Organic Foods, who are the makers of our Farm Boy Organic Apple Sauce, Apple Cider, and Apple Cider Vinegar. He talks to us about 60-year-old apple trees, natural fermentation, staying true to the farm’s roots and recipes, and doing things from the ground up.

Hi Shaun! I’m so excited to be talking to you about the story behind Farm Boy’s Organic Apple Sauce, Apple Cider and Apple Cider Vinegar. Especially right now during apple season. 

Can you tell me a little bit about the farm and the Filsinger’s story?

Filsinger’s has been around since 1953, and it was actually one of the first six organic farms in all of Canada. It was founded by Alvin Filsinger – he was one of the pioneers of organic industry. He was looking at the products that were being used at the time on apples and other crops, and didn’t think that was how we should be growing our food. Instead of using things that were extremely toxic, he decided to go the other way and grow things as naturally as possible.

If you fast forward, we took over the farm in 2006, and we’ve been doing things the same way he always did them. He was growing apples and then got into doing some processing, because it’s really hard to grow #1 organic apples in Ontario with the weather and the bugs. So he started making apple cider, apple cider vinegar, apple sauce. We’ve kept that up, although a lot of his equipment was from the 70’s when he installed it, so we updated all of that and grown from there. We’ve invested a lot of money into the new processing equipment. 

We are still using the same recipes, but we have a new bottling line, multiple colonies of vinegars, we’re just trying to get with the times. We still grow all the apples we use now. It’s a 100 acre farm, and we probably have 75-80 acres of apple trees, and we’re planting more. 

We still have some of the original apple trees from the 1950s. We’ve recently started to plant some newer varieties and high density orchards, but we still have to keep some of the old varieties because they are better for processing. 

That’s incredible! Is farming your background? 

No, no. So Alvin was the owner of this place originally. His son was helping him at the time. And his kids were my age. So in my younger days, I actually used to be out here, just hanging out with them. I played on their hockey team. One day I drove by and saw it was for sale, and thought it was a great business, although Alvin was well into his 80’s so I thought it could maybe be run better, so we just went for it. 

Wow! That seems like a bold move. Was it a big learning curve? 

Yes. Alvin stayed to help us at first, to show us the whole operation and the recipes and whatnot. I always used to joke that if I knew then what I know nowI probably wouldn’t have made the jump [laughs] because there was a lot of learning to do. 

When you talk about “processing,” you mean making the products, right? How is the apple sauce made? I know it’s famously one ingredient. 

All of our products are very pure, very true. It’s just apples. We don’t even add ascorbic acid. Sometimes in products there are ingredients that aren’t listed on an ingredient sheet but are used for processing. We don’t use any of that. I always tell people you can’t make applesauce any more homemade than we make it. 

We take the apples, we actually steam them first. That’s why Farm Boy apple sauce is red in colour, because you’re getting the nutrients from the skins. We remove the seeds and the cores, but it means you are left with a very different apple sauce than anything else on the market. It’s truly handmade and small batch. 

It’s not like the bigger brands where everything is just thrown in together, seeds and cores, and then quickly heated up after. 

Same with the apple cider vinegar. We make it the same way it was made 1000 years ago. Apples are pressed and we let the juice wildly ferment without adding anything to it. It goes through a primary and secondary fermentation. We have live vinegar colonies here and basically we feed the cider that’s been fermented to them and they convert the alcohol into acetic acid. After it’s done, it’s not pasteurized or anything, it’s just raw apple cider vinegar. 

Why we’re different from other brands is that we’re doing the growing, we’re doing the processing, we’re making the vinegar, everything is done here. Whereas other people use a concentrate, which is just boiled down apple juice, and then they add yeast to it, add nutrients to it, because it’s basically a dead product, and then they ferment it. I like to say we really have nothing to hide, everything is very natural and transparent. 

So what kind of apples do you grow and use? Or are there too many to name…?

Well, over the years, Alvin had been collecting different varieties so we have tons of varieties. We use different apples for different products, but we have Snow apples, Margaret Pratt apples, a bunch of old varieties, and then all the classic varieties, Empires, Cortlands, Macintosh, Ida Reds, all the ones that were popular in the 80s and 90s, and then we have newer varieties – everybody asks for Honeycrisps and Galas. We have a whole bunch of different varieties.

In the end products, do you use a blend of apples? 

The vinegar, we can use any apples. But the applesauce will change. Right now we’re using Spartans and Cortlands, but as the season goes on, we’ll move to Empires, and just keep going with what we’re harvesting. So every batch and every jar of applesauce has different apples. 

Wow. That’s just the essence of seasonal eating.

Yeah. We’re not picking them all and then throwing them in cold storage. We’re picking them and processing them the next day. 

Oh wow. So fresh! That’s amazing. So obviously organic farming is the cornerstone of Filsinger’s. Would it be easier to take shortcuts?

Our biggest thing is that it’s difficult to grow really nice looking organic apples. Every year we have a lot of apples that just wouldn’t make the cut to sell as just apples. 

Do you actually sell the apples as apples? Or do you process them all?

A very minor amount. We make almost all of them into cider or vinegar or sauce. 

 

This might be a silly question, but I have to ask. How many apples does an apple tree produce in a growing season or a harvesting season? Does it depend? 

It really depends on the trees. Some of the huge, old trees that are from the 50’s – nobody would ever grow those now because of the amount of labour – have hundreds and hundreds of apples on them. Some of ours are semi-dwarf, and they still have a couple hundred and they go down to the dwarf trees that might have 50 on them. 

When people grow conventional apples in high density situations, they actually thin them and have a certain number that the tree should produce. We’re definitely not anywhere close to that. They’re growing for the fresh market, so they have things down to a science, and we are letting things take shape naturally. 

How big is the team that you have? 

Right now during harvest season, there are 12 employees. 

Wait, that’s it? Twelve people to pick all the apples and process them all and everything? 

Yep!

Those must be long days. Especially right now during harvest time!

Yeah, this time of the year is very busy. 

Do you work in all parts of the business? 

I still do a little bit of everything. We’re a small family farm, so everyone has to know how to do everything. Like, right now I’m talking to you, but if something breaks down, I might have to take over for someone else. It’s all hands on deck. 

Do you guys have to do a quality check for your apples? How do you know if they’re what you want? How do you know when to harvest them?

All of our apples are hand picked, so you can tell when an apple is ripe two ways: first, if it comes off the tree easily, and secondly by the colour of the seeds. If the seeds are still white, the apple isn’t ready. 

The apple gets most of it’s sugar and juice in the last week before ripening, so we just go out and check it out! You used to see in commercials, a guy going out and touching a corn cob and saying, “oh it’s not ready yet!” and that’s actually what we do. Go out, take a bite, see what it’s like. If it’s still chalky, it’s not ready. 

I know a lot of people think there are health benefits specifically related to apple cider vinegar…do you agree?

I’d say I agree with that…anytime you’re consuming a fermented product where there’s a ton of enzymes and beneficial bacteria that your body needs, and can bring your body and digestive system back into balance, that’s everything from nutrient absorption. 

And I know personally, if you’re out in the sun too long, you can put the apple cider vinegar on your skin and see a difference.

I didn’t know that! I guess I’ve heard of people using it for problematic skin…

Yeah people use it as a toner. I’d say it’s a beneficial product because it’s a raw, fermented product, and lots of people are missing that in their diet.

And you are using the ambient yeast and bacteria, so it’s not like you’re introducing anything made…

And that’s why for a “raw” product, it has to be organic, because on non-organic apples there’s so much fungicide, it actually kills the natural yeast, so the cider doesn’t ferment properly. 

organic-sweet-apple-cider

Do you eat apples? And applesauce and apple cider vinegar? Or are you tired of them?

Oh no. This time of the year, I eat a lot of apples [laughs.] They’re so good when they come off the tree. I use apple cider vinegar for all kinds of things – I take it every day. I make lots of things with it. This time of the year I like to make a coleslaw with an apple cider vinegar dressing. My kids eat the applesauce very often. They take it in their lunch every day. So I use them all the time!

That’s great to hear. Is there anything else you think people should know? 

The only thing is that I always say, we’re 100% Canadian company. We don’t import any apples, it’s not like in the winter we’re bringing them in. We do everything. From the growing to the processing. We’re not just a brand. All these other places are saying, “I need some vinegar, can you bottle it up?” to someone else. 

We’re doing it from the ground up. We’re actually farmers. We’re actually producers. We’re actually bottling.

Thank you so much Shaun and good luck for harvest season. I loved learning about the family behind one of our favourite products, and a commitment to organic growing. Now I’ll be trying to spot tiny differences between batches of apple sauce! 

 

Emily

The best foods. The best shopping experience. Making life better. This is our vision.

Farm Boy