1. The farm embraced new responsibilities in 2010 when you took over the company, being from a traditional apple orchard in Åland to a multi-faceted food and tourism company. Was it also because of your administration and tourism formations, to transform your apple business into something bigger and more adventurous?
Tourism is important in the Åland Islands, and though it was kind of natural for us to explore this kind of business it was not an easy decision to make. When we started as farmers in 2010, we really did not want any visitors, but today we arrange apple safaris and juice tastings at our farm. Really, the start of the whole transformation was that we were exposed to a hailstorm in 2014, that totally destroyed our crop. It was devastating at the time, and we realized we had to do something different if we wanted to continue growing apples, and in reality, keep the farm in the family. The first approach was Mitt Äppelträd; Vi odlar - Du skördar. Our first step in welcoming people to our farm. During 2016-2017, we trained to be Food Artisans which gave us invaluable network, knowledge and support. We started thinking about what really to do with our apples and we ended up investing in a mobile juice pressing plant and started producing variety-specific apple juices. The foundation of us welcoming people to the farm is that we want to tell about farming, apple growing in particular, and let you experience what the Åland countryside can offer. Really, let people out of the city...
2. Öfvergårds already won many prizes, mostly for your apple juices. What is the secret of such a great product? Is that result due to the diligent effort in creating 17 apple varieties? How is the everyday work on the farm, having different harvest seasons?
If you want to make first-class products, you have to use the best raw material. Because we grow the apples ourselves we have just that opportunity. Three gold medals and one silver medal for our juices seems like a testament to that kind of thinking. Having several apple varieties is about how much you can manage to grow and care for, in relation to the time you have at your disposal. There are no more than 24 hours a day. Everyday work is really a matter of splitting up the year in different segments and segments in weeks or days and so on, and still take into account the tasks necessary for each work to be completed. In the spring and summer, we are busy caring for the trees, regarding watering, fertilizing, and bug control. The spring is also the time for planting new trees in the orchard and caring for those. In high summer we thin the apple trees, take away about 1/3 of the non-ripe apples to let the rest grow big. This is also our first harvest season when we pick the raw material for our Picklade Äppelskott. Of course, the fall is the most intense time of work. We pick apples from about August 15 to October 15. During that time we also grade the apples for selling to wholesalers and to press choice apples to apple juices. We prune in winter, though you really should prune the apple trees in JAS, July – August – September. We welcome people to the farm almost all year round, to our farm stand, apple safaris, and juice tastings. We also sell our products through choice places and REKO. We also attend different markets and fairs. Usually, the Christmas market season runs from November through December. During this time we also plan for the summer season. Maintenance time for the machinery starts now also and runs all through early spring.
3. How does the "My Apple Tree" started? How many people are today involved in this initiative, and how can someone join in this year, having in mind the pandemic? How many people are expected for this year's harvest?
After harvest time in 2015, we went to visit relatives in the US because we had found out they lived quite close in the apple district in New England. Jan also wanted to know more about Pick Your Own, which is a common business approach among apple orchards in the area. We visited 14 different apple orchards, big and small, from Connecticut all the way up to Vermont, and was also introduced to CSA – Community Supported Agriculture. To explore the idea of CSA deeper and to develop the idea of Pick Your Own we created Mitt Äppelträd; Vi Odlar – Du Skördar. There are about 100 different members in this business model annually. You can join all year round really by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you join after July 1, you participate in the next harvest season. We expect about the same amount, around 100 for this year’s harvest. We hope for the pandemic to be over by this autumn, but we will arrange something for those participants from the mainland that can't make it to Åland if it isn't over.
4. Can you explain a little better about the packaging for the juices you currently use? It's meant to preserve the juices in the best quality from day 1, but can people reuse it, or recycle it?
The pouch is recycled as plastic and yes, you can reuse it as an ice block for your picnic for instance. We chose this type of container because we like the look of it and because it is a technically competent container. It contributes to the prolonged preservation time of the juices and the carbon footprint of the container is 80% less than of a glass bottle.
5. As Aland is the biggest cultivar of apples in Finland, the IPM is an important topic to discuss cultivation and sustainability on the island. Can you explain a little bit about the IPM and how it matters to consumers looking for organic fruits?
IPM is an ecosystem-based strategy that focuses on the long-term prevention of pests or their damage through a combination of techniques such as biological control, habitat manipulation, modification of cultural practices, and the use of resistant varieties. Pesticides are used only after monitoring indicates they are needed according to established guidelines and treatments are made with the goal of removing only the target organism. Pest control materials are selected and applied in a manner that minimizes risks to human health, beneficial and nontarget organisms, and the environment. The biological balance in the orchard is very important for us, and because of that, the use of IPM principles is a key element. We use birdhouses placed around the orchard and beneficial insects, earwigs, ladybugs, and spiders, in helping us with pest control.