Since its launch three years ago, the Cider and Mead Festival has grown substantially each season.
“The original idea came from trying to get more tourists here outside of the normal season,” said organizer Rick Hughes. “I felt that cider business was going to explode and I wanted to support something that was made here in Washington. And I thought it would be a really fun activity and help launch the farmers market. I have a goal of 50 percent of the cafeteria food coming from local growers, so this supports the Farm to Cafeteria program.”
Around 20 hard cider and mead producers from the Northwest, California and British Columbia will be represented under the big white tent on Saturday, May 11 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the Eastsound Village Green on Orcas Island.
Some of those beverage makers are Finnriver, Sky River, Alpenfire, Honey Run, Methow Valley Ciderhouse, Hidden Valley, Tieton Cider Works, Chaucers Mead, Crispin, 2 Towns, and Snowdrift.
“There will be a rep from the Northwest Cider Association – they are a cool group of folks,” Hughes said. “It’s going to be everyone who was here last year plus a few new ones.”
Perched alongside the farmers’ market, the festival offers tastes of up to 70 varieties of unique and award-winning hard ciders and meads to those age 21 and over for $5 per person. Local musicians will be entertaining the crowd and visitors will also be able to mingle among the many booths housing crafts, organic produce, colorful flowers and artisans all during the day.
Orcas restaurants Doe Bay Cafe, the Inn at Ship Bay, the New Leaf and the Kitchen will be featuring menu items prepared with ciders as well as pairing ciders with entrees during that weekend.
All net proceeds from the event will benefit the Orcas Island Farm to Cafeteria Program, a nonprofit that helps bring local and nutritious food into the school. In 2005, high school student Makala Forster brought the idea to Madie Murray, who helped spearhead the effort. Currently, 20 to 30 percent of the veggies, meat and herbs served is from island farms.
“I felt that our food supply has become very unhealthy and school lunch programs had gotten out of hand until these movements to get organic food into the school,” Murray said. “It is the soil that helps our students grow.”
In addition to the tastings, it’s a chance for islanders to show off their cider home brews. Last year’s winner Bob Vietzke will be at it again this year. He challenges any cider or mead home brewer on Orcas Island who thinks theirs is better to try to take away his bid to win “Best Orcas Brew of the Fest” for the second year in a row. The competition is held around 2 p.m.
“It’s going to be one of most intense and fun cider brew fests,” Hughes said.
Last year, 150 people attended and they raised $650. The goal this year is 700 participants and $2,500 in fundraising. The festival received lodging tax money this year, which allowed for off-island promotion.
“I figure if you bring in 10 producers from off island and they each spend $200, that’s $2,000 spent in the community,” Hughes said. “And if 100 people come from off-island and spend money – you do the math.”