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Brendon Orchards Cooperative

Brendon Orchards is a fantastic orchard and juicing cooperative in Somerset set up in 2007 to benefit the local community by helping them to use fruit which would otherwise go to waste. One of their fun juicing days was featured in BBC1's Countryfile program in September [2013] showing juicing equipment bought from us - Jon Craven rolled up his sleeves and had a go at crushing and they received a visit from The Wurzels! We asked Jane Ruell, from the group, a few questions about how the group began and what it is all about ....

What is the Brendon Orchards Cooperative all about and who set it up?

"We started in 2007 when some of us were invited to sit round a table at a transition meeting to see if we could find a way to minimise food miles and maximise the use of what we grew in and around our villages. For several years we ran Apple Days using a small, hired apple press. Demand grew so we bought our first press and in 2012 we became a fully-fledged cooperative. We now have 3 hydropresses - one is called Goliath- guess why! We aim to provide those with fruit trees with information to keep their trees in tip, top condition. We are a ‘community benefit society’ run by a committee of volunteers with lots of support and input from members. We get a warm sense of achievement and plenty of apple juice. Like any organisation such as this it is run by a core of die-hards who ensure that everything runs smoothly."

What are the aims of the cooperative and who does it aim to benefit?

"Brendon Orchards are just a bunch of locals who want to...

  • Provide ways for the community to make its own produce from locally grown fruit, thereby preventing wastage and supporting the community by linking people and groups with surplus fruit
  • Provide training on juicing, orchard management and fruit usage, and to maximise production from such fruit
  • Increase the economic sustainability of the local area and reduce food miles by creating high quality local products which will be available locally. Products will include; apple juice, chutneys, dried apple rings.
  • Gather knowledge of where local orchards and individual trees are, their history and varieties.
  • Hold events such as apple days, wassailing and blossom picnics"

What activities does the cooperative get involved in?

"We started with pressing apples and this is still our main activity. Regular seasonal pressings take place at our HQ called The Greenhouse in Wiveliscombe. People bring their fruit for pressing, pasteurising and bottling. These sessions are advertised to everyone so that those who do not have their own apple trees can join in the process and take away juice. We take out the presses to sites where we are invited in the locality, such as National Trust, village halls and schools. We loan out our press by the day to those who want to press fruit at home. The whole kit including the pasteuriser and all, fit into the boot of a car. And our online diary helps people to spot a time when they can access it.

If you happen to be around Somerset at the end of the year then you will find us selling apple juice from donated fruit at any number of local street fairs, community markets, Christmas bazaars and our own Apple Days. However it’s not just the juice, we are experimenting with dried apple rings, chutney recipes and apple cakes for next year’s competition."

Where do the apples come from, which you juice using our equipment?

"Brendon Orchards Cooperative is nestled away in a lovely part of Somerset that we refer to as the Magic Triangle, being surrounded by the stunning hills of the Quantocks, Blackdowns and Brendons. Traditionally a cider producing area, many people have the remains of orchards in their gardens. Some have just one or two productive trees or know someone who has. So much goes to waste, dropping good fruit to the ground to rot, but now we have an answer about how to use all the produce in a simple but astoundingly fun way to make healthy drinks."

What positive impact does the cooperative have on those it aims to help?

"Brendon Orchards is a great community venture. It brings together diverse elements - young and older, farmers and foragers. Pressing apples provides fantastic, healthy drinks, while encouraging an awareness of the value of local produce and sense of just how special the orchards of Somerset are. Children see just how food is produced - it doesn't all just magically arrive in the supermarket. Apple Days are an opportunity to not only make juice to keep from your own fruit, but also identify your apples, bob for apples, share an apple-based meal or just have a cuppa and meet new people."

What have the cooperative volunteers gained from the project?

"Volunteering for Brendon Orchards gives you a great feeling of belonging to an ethical, productive and fun organisation. All those who attend a pressing session or who hire out the equipment are provided with full training and go away with the skills to process apples. During the winter we run pruning courses, teaching local people how to bring old trees back into production and how to achieve keeping young trees healthy. You can offer skills such as maintaining the website, or your strong arms for lifting and carrying equipment. Everyone's efforts are valued."

Do you have any exciting plans for the cooperative’s development or future?

"Brendon Orchards has been in the spotlight of Channel 1 BBC’s Countryfile programme [September 2013]. New partnerships are being forged as we speak and more organisations including schools are keen for us to bring in the equipment and show children how great drinks are produced from everyday fruit.

The main thing that has been highlighted since the BBC coverage is how we are keen to produce a template of this group that can be replicated in other places. There have been enquiries from as far afield as Southern Ireland, Brittany and Scotland and many places in between from groups wanting to know how to set up an apple coop, how to run and event, where to purchase the equipment.

The other area that Brendon Orchards are keen to develop is orchard mapping in a similar way to the Quantock Hills Heritage orchard project. Recording the remains of apple orchards in this area and the varieties of apples. And of course, we have a dream of planting our own orchard one day."

Visit Brendon Orchards Cooperative's website to find out what events they are planning, or follow them on Twitter @brendonorchards.

Starting up your own group

For handy tips on setting up your own 'fruit group' or Apple Day, including the juicing equipment you might need, see our Community Juicing pages.

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