Dan and Joanne Lehrer moved to Sebastopol in 1999, just as one of the last of the town’s apple processors was closing up shop. “The most beautiful Gravenstein orchard in the world, the old Hallberg orchard along Highway 116 just north of town, was cut down that year,” they recall. “Imagine rows of majestic trees all felled in the same direction, as far as you could see, as if Mt. Saint Helens had erupted nearby.”
The Lehrers’ nursery, Flatland Flower Farm, had an apple orchard, and they would sell its produce in season at market along with their other offerings. But with most commercial apple production gone, they wondered how to make the orchard more viable. First they pressed some apple juice on a wooden press, turning out some great apple cider vinegar. “Its rampant success made us think: What else can we do?” they recall.
Joanne started experimenting with granola recipes, and they borrowed a small dehydrator for drying their apples. The result, using their apples in expertly-baked granola, was like nothing else on the market – “even one with umpteen million brands of granola.”
Organic makes a difference
As organic farmers, the Lehrers believe in the difference that organic production makes, and they make sure to use as many organic ingredients in their products as they can. Organic nuts come from small family farms—the same ones they’ve been selling alongside for 18 years now at the farmers’ markets. Buttery olive oil is from an organic Sacramento Valley olive grove that’s been in the same family for four generations. They use fair-traded or American sweeteners to support other small organic farmers—even if they’re in the Philippines. Organic oats are from a local distributor and are grown in California and Oregon. The vanilla is cold-extracted at a family business here in the U.S., and they work directly with a small spice importer (many of the spices are grown on her family farm in Indonesia) to get the best quality spices.
As well as Little Apple vinegar and Little Apple granola, Joanne also created a recipe for some delicious apple-cider caramels. Look for those in store, too; the perfect finishing touch to this happy Sebastopol story.