By Jessica Morrow
Flapjack Chronicle staff
Northern California skies were an eerie grey but the sweet smell of candy apples and BBQ food filled the air. A bluegrass band played as kids ran around laughing, carrying pumpkins at Fortuna’s Apple Orchard Festival Oct. 6-7, a celebration of locally grown apples held at Clendenen’s Cider Works orchard. Many families came out to the event, where they drank free cider and rode on a hay wagon through the apple orchard.
Supervisor and event coordinator Clif Clendenen says that his family’s orchard has been there since the year 1908, before his grandfather E.C. Clendenen took ownership. The conditions were much different than today because Highway 101 had not been built.
Clendenen’s grandfather’s brought his apples to San Francisco on a steam ship that picked up freight and people up at a port in Fortuna. In order to make profits a little farther north, they took apples via horse and wagon to Eureka. E.C. Clendenen bought a cider press. Clif Clendenen started working on the farm in 1978 with his folks when he finished college.
“We can grow lots of good food here,” he said. “Eating local means less carbon footprints, twenty miles verse a hundred miles.”
The family business continues from generation to the next. Clif’s son Drew Clendenen, 25, has been manager for the last five years. Drew grew up in Fortuna. When he was two years old, his dad put him in a backpack while he pruned apples.
“Family operated farms in the U.S. is a dying thing, it’s a good thing to be born into it,” Drew Clendenen says.Drew Clendenen says he’s encouraged to see that more people living in the United States are becoming educated about the importance of local food. At the Clendenen’s orchard, no apple gets wasted. Smaller apples go to the local schools.
The orchard is five acres. But it produces 50 tons of apples a year.
While riding on the bumpy wagon through the apple orchard, two young girls explained to visitors the orchard’s history and discussed the apples growing there. The most popular? The Janai Gold.
Katie Murray, 14, a Fortuna High student, says that this is her first year giving the tour and that it is really fun. Murray signed up for the job at the school office through the Interact Club. It didn’t take much time for her to learn the orchard’s story so she could narrate the tour. But planning for the event was a big job.
Jessica Riley, 23, College of the Redwoods student, also works as a cashier at Clendenen Cider Works store in Fortuna. She says she loves the job, which she works from August to January.
“Community supports it and [there’s a] sense of family,” she says. “No pressure from corporations.”