The pungent smell of chopped apples is rife in the air, indicating that I have finally located my destination. I’d been wandering about in the rain trying to find this hidden gem, - the Local Fox cider press. Who knew that Walthamstow’s residential backstreets could be housing a micro-cidery within its residential back streets? Run by national environmental charity, The Orchard Project, this is not a commercial enterprise, but a rather unique community project aimed at reducing the amount of fruit currently going to waste in London.
Local Fox Cider is made purely from neglected, surplus apples and pears, which are collected or donated from the capital’s gardens, orchards and parks. More recently, the project has also started to receive donations from commercial supply chains, a source it hopes to pursue further as it continues to grow. Since its inception in 2016, the Community Cider Hub has rescued over 15 tonnes of waste fruit and transformed it into scrumptious cider and apple juice.
©Alberto Pezalli - washed apples
That’s quite impressive for a largely volunteer-powered operation. Not long after arriving at the cider hub, I meet an enthusiastic group who demonstrate why the word ‘Community’ is an important prefix to the project’s title. Around 700 volunteers have willingly donned plastic aprons to wash, chop and scrat apples, or headed out into the autumnal weather to help with apple harvests. Many who give their time to the hub are enticed by the traditional methods used in making this craft cider: very little machinery and only natural wild yeasts (from the apple skins themselves).
The two cider-makers who lead and instruct the volunteers (both female, unusually) ensure that waste is minimised and recycled where possible. Once every last drop of juice has been squeezed out by the hydraulic press, the remaining apple pomace is taken to a local growers cooperative, Organic Lea, who use it in their compost. Assistant Cider Maker, Elizabeth Pegler, is also keen to make sure the volunteers understand that even the knobbly, bruised apples, unworthy of being eaten, can be put into the scratter and used for cider, so that as little as possible goes to waste. “We try to make sure everyone goes away with an increased awareness of food waste issues, and, of course, with a bottle of cider to reward their efforts!” she explains.
But what about the fruit donors? While individuals who donate their unwanted apples also receive juice or cider back in exchange, the real impact of the project is felt more when community orchards and local organisations get involved. Around 20 community orchards across London have contributed surplus from their harvests this year, and in return they receive training on fruit tree care, or tools to help their strengthen and improve their orchards. Any profit from the sale of Local Fox Cider also goes towards The Orchard Project’s overall mission of reviving the UK’s declined orchard heritage, particularly in urban areas. They work with communities across England and Scotland to plant, restore and celebrate local orchards, encouraging people to reconnect to their food sources.
The Community Cider Hub has gone from strength to strength, producing approximately 15,000 bottles of cider since 2016. Unfortunately, its funding is soon to come to an end and this special food waste reduction mission is under threat. Rather than close its doors and disappoint its enthusiastic volunteers and consumers alike, The Orchard Project have launched a crowdfunding campaign with an aim of raising £17,500 to save Local Fox. If you can donate even a small amount to keep the cider press open, they would be very grateful; - liquid rewards and other Christmas gift ideas are available to those who back the project! Please see www.crowdfunder.co.uk/localfox for more details before the campaign ends on 10th December.
If you live locally, the project also welcomes new volunteers; go to www.theorchardproject.org.uk/drinks to see the pressing dates and get involved. Finally, you can taste their mulled cider at the Walthamstow Winter Wonderland Market every Sunday until 16th December. Enjoy!