Fall and apples go hand in hand here in Michigan, as I know is the case in many other parts of the country.
We have always enjoyed many of the activities that fall brings, and those centered around apples have always been favorite, specifically going to the cider mill and also apple picking. Both of these things have been traditions of our families for the last few years.
But, we noticed this year that things are just out of hand!
Who doesn't love cider and donuts? I know everyone in our family loves these things. Still, the price of cider these days is through the roof. A gallon is now around $8 at most local cider mills! This pricing came about in kind of a sneaky way.
In 2012, Michigan had an incredibly warm March. Temperatures averaged low 70's for roughly a two week period. This was about 30 degrees warmer than normal. The apple trees started blooming earlier than normal, as is normal with these temperatures. Unfortunately, when the cold weather came back in, many trees were damaged for the year.
In short, the harvest in 2012 was a dud, and prices of apples and cider went up as the crop was down 75% in many areas. Prices for a gallon of cider went up from around $5 to $7.
Now, 2013 and 2014 produced bumper crops of apples, but do you think the prices went back down?
I really get bothered by these types of opportunistic price increases, but they're not surprising, and even though I'm sure there wasn't direct collusion between cider mill owners, I'm sure that they all just decided to put out their prices as they were the year past and see what happened, and unfortunately nobody complained. And now we're left with cider prices that are much higher than they probably should be.
And, to top it off, some of the cider mills have gotten greedy. There's one local mill (Long's Family Farm) that actually charges you for plastic cups if you want to buy your cider and sit outside. Talk about greed!
Long's was also our favorite spot to pick apples. They had a pretty sweet setup where you came in, parked, and took a hayride out to the picking area. Our family generally got a large bag. The fun and experience, plus the apples, were worth the $25 or so.
Sadly, it's not that easy anymore. They now have a policy where every person that goes to pick apples has to buy their own bag. Even kids. So, instead of our family buying one large bag for around $25, we could get four small bags for roughly the same price. The only problem is that you end up with roughly half the amount of apples in four smaller bags as you do with one larger bag.
And, to add insult to injury, it's been reported that when you go back, if your bag is above the top line, they'll charge you for yet another bag! After all, if you're going to effectively double the price of your product, why not effectively throw sand in their face while you're at it?
Sadly, our annual visit to this mill and orchard was crossed off the list.
We found a new cider mill that we tried this year (Rochester Cider Mill). The prices were around the same, but there's no getting around that, but it was very laid back. They had areas for the kids to play, and while you were in there, you didn't get the sense that they were looking at you with dollar signs in their eyes, as has turned into the case with other nearby mills and orchards. We loved it!
We ended up skipping apple picking this year. Hopefully we can resume this at some point, but it will either have to be at a new orchard or if the old place we went to changes their minds. This year, we have gotten our apples at the grocery store. It's not as much fun, but in the end, we're satisfied with the product and we can justify the prices. Our goal is to still have fun, just maybe in other ways. The kids are now old enough that they can help bake pies or make crisp. Yum!
A Deep History
Many of the mills and orchards in our area is that they are very old, with decades of tradition and history. That's all great and it makes for great stories. However, I can't help but think that charging for cups and napkins goes against the established traditions. Was this kind of business what the founders had in mind? It seems awfully hard to believe.
Readers, do you love apples and fall like we do? Have you seen your local businesses stay true to their history or has commercialization and profit taken over? Tell me your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.