The idea for Branch Out Cider, a community orchard that produces apple wine from neighborhood trees, began with one special apple tree. When Aaron Fodge and Matt Fater sat down to discuss their business and share their story, they were quick to point out the lush, flowering apple tree in their neighborhood that started it all. “The tree was loaded, so we made cider with it!” That was the first year. The next year they bought a press and collected apples from around the neighborhood. Their first batch made more cider than they could use, and neighbors started coming by. “We made a party out of it.” Then they noticed how many trees there were and that no one was doing anything with the apples.
After four years of making cider, last summer they decided to take a sample of how many local apple trees there are and devise a plan to bring them into use. “We wanted to do something with the forgotten apple trees.” They fine tuned their cider process and began to make apple wine. During this time, they also began to write a business plan and enlisted the help of the SBDC. “We needed validation that this will work. Tree owners are actually customers. We want to create a community orchard where people’s trees contribute to the orchard.”
Matt and Aaron worked on the business plan over the summer and used GIS to map local apple trees. In November 2011 they submitted an abstract to the Monfort College of Business’ Third Annual Entrepreneurial Challenge. They presented their business idea, developed a sales pitch, and submitted their business plan. “In that month of preparation, we met with Arnie Culver with the SBDC. Arnie critiqued the plan and gave us very valuable ideas to put into the plan.” A one-hour consult turned into an hour and forty minutes of brainstorming ideas, mostly focused on secondary services. “Arnie stuck around well past that hour. He gave us 4-5 solid ideas that we have since added into the business plan. He was a straight shooter and we knew that he would tell us if this wouldn’t work.” On March 8, 2012 Matt and Aaron competed in the Challenge against four other companies and won 2nd prize and $10,000 startup capital for Branch Out Cider. The SBDC will be reviewing their plan again, and Matt and Aaron plan to continue to work with the SBDC.
Matt and Aaron share the ethic of not wanting to see things go to waste. One of their goals is to use an urban environment to promote sustainable agriculture. Branch Out Cider’s passion for bringing the community together to create a fresh, local product is clear in the enthusiasm with which Matt and Aaron share their story. “It was fun to bring a new idea to the neighborhood and see how excited people got.”
They will be signing up trees this fall, with the first batch available next spring 2013. If you have an apple tree with some extra fruit and a story to tell, Branch Out Cider is the place for you!