By Michelle M. Sharp, Founder and Content Creator of Meet the Minnesota Makers
Nate Watters has loved apples and apple orchards since childhood. After working as a preschool teacher and in vegetable farming, he realized that growing apples himself is what he really wanted to do. Nate and his wife, Tracy Jonkman, an emergency room physician at Ridges Hospital in Burnsville, chose Minnesota as the perfect place for their orchard venture. Keepsake Cidery, just south of Northfield, now boasts over 5,000 apple trees on 25 acres.
“We are now over ten years in and I feel like my passion for apples has grown,” Watters said. “It’s such a blessing to be able to farm, to help make people happy, and to contribute to society while creating something with my family and crew here that we all feel invested in and like doing.”
Keepsake’s newest enclosed seating area sits amid a grove of apple trees, whose fruit is turned onsite into naturally fermented cider — then sold at their tasting room and in liquor stores and restaurants throughout the metro. The orchard was founded with an emphasis on community and sustainability. In addition to their organic grove, the majority of the rest of the fruit they press is grown within 30 miles of their farm.
Welcoming visitors of all ages, Nate and Tracy enjoy being a destination for multigenerational families, fermentation aficionados, or day trippers just looking for a change of scenery — their front porch, also known as the tasting room, truly is a family-friendly site.
Nate is passionate about the community they’ve forged with fellow local growers and foodies. The orchard’s tasting room is stocked with meats, cheeses, and produce from Cannon Valley farms. That’s how Nate and Tracy fill their home freezer as well.
“I love living in this local food system,” Watters said. “I think it is really important. We’re trying to take care of people and our resources. The more local food is, the better it is not only for the local economy, but it’s great for local ecology.”
A cider averages 12-20 months of fermentation before it’s ready to release. To make their ciders, Nate doesn’t depend on recipes, but rather “It’s more of a dance.” Each year the apples will be different and Keepsake’s ciders allow the fruit to speak for itself. The flavor profiles of their beverages vary greatly. Nate considers it to be a great compliment when someone sits down to a tasting flight and declares that every single cider tastes different. It’s Keepsake’s goal to have each of their ciders “have a distinct voice.”
Read the full article at the Sun ThisWeek.
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