Oakes brothers emerge as leaders for NY Apple and Cider associations

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 1 March 2023 at 9:34 pm

Provided photo: Jonathan Oakes, left, and his brother Christopher stand in the State Capitol in Albany on the Million Dollar Staircase with steps made of Medina Sandstone. The brothers were in Albany for meetings of the New York State Apple Association and New York State Cider Association. Jonathan is president of the New York Cider Association and Christopher is vice president of the NY Apple Association.

LYNDONVILLE – There’s no mistaking Christopher and Jonathan Oakes passion for their family business.

The brothers are not only heavily involved in LynOaken Farms, but Christopher is vice chair of the New York Apple Association, while Jonathan is president of the New York Cider Association.

They recently attended annual meetings of their respective organizations in Albany, which they feel is important in urging lawmakers to make laws and provide funding for programs beneficial to farmers.

In addition to Christopher’s and Jonathan’s involvement in their agricultural organizations, their aunt Wendy Oakes-Wilson is a member of the New York Grape and Wine Foundation.

Jonathan has been a member of the New York Cider Association since its founding in 2015. He was elected president last June. He is the winemaker for Leonard Oakes Estate Winery.

Christopher has been on the New York Apple Association board since 2020 and was elected vice chair a year ago.

“Our involvement in agricultural goes back to our grandfather Jim,” Jonathan said. “He was active in many agricultural agencies, specifically apple organizations.”

Jim’s father Leonard founded the family farm in 1919, raising poultry and vegetables, continuing through World War II. After Leonard died in 1951 and Jim took over, he moved more into fruit and vegetables, Jonathan said. By the 1980s, the farm was mostly a fruit farm. Christopher’s and Jonathan’s dad Darrell heads the farm today.

File photos by Tom Rivers: Chris Oakes, orchard manager at LynOaken Farms and the fourth generation to work on the farm, holds a Redfield apple, a variety that was developed in 1938. The apple has a red flesh and pink seeds. It’s one of the heirloom varieties in a U-Pick orchard at the farm.

Farming has become more challenging in recent years, with all the rules and regulations being enacted in Albany, Christopher said, which is why the Oakes brothers know how important it is to support the Apple and Cider organizations.

Jonathan has always had a penchant for cider and started fermenting in 2003. Their tasting room was opened in 2008 at the winery on Ridge Road in Medina.

He said cider was one of original key beverages in our nation, and since LynOaken Farms had a lot of apples, it made sense to start making cider.

“Then we have a school like Cornell in our back yard,” Jonathan said. “It’s nice for us to collaborate with each other and assure we stay on the front end of things.”

He said the Cider Association is young as an organization, kind of running on the shirttails of the Apple Association.

“It’s been a good relationship so far,” he said.

LynOaken Farms currently grows 250 acres of apples, 16 acres of peaches and 15 acres of wine grapes. The major apple orchards are on their home farm on Platten Road in Lyndonville, while the winery is located at 10609 Ridge Rd., Medina. Commercially, they raise 14 varieties of apples, but their U-pick orchard offers more than 350 varieties. One of these is an ancient type called Ben Davis.

“This was a big variety when the canal came through,” Christopher said. “You could put them on a ship to England and they would still look like an apple when they got there. Of course, they were like shoe leather.”

Christopher said every apple grower in the state is automatically a member of the New York Apple Association. One thing which they advocated for was for a portion of every apple sale to go to the Association for marketing. Currently, 16 cents of every bushel sold goes to fund marketing of New York state apples. The Apple Board meets three times a year – in February, June and November. Meetings are in Albany at budget time and in different locations the other two sessions. The state has 550 apple growers.

Jonathan Oakes, the winemaker at Leonard Oakes Estate Winery in Medina, serves wine during the third annual Farm-to-Table dinner on Aug. 2, 2018 in downtown Medina.

The Cider Association is member driven and their funding comes from membership dues. The organization are hoping to convince Albany to increase the line item in the budget for state funding of the Cider Association.

Their requests include funding for a New York Cider Mark Promotion campaign (resulting in full activation on cider labeling indicating 100 percent use of New York apples); Cider Week New York; a New York Cider Trail app to inspire visits to tasting rooms and orchards; and update of the website, social channels and collateral to increase tourist attraction.

The Cider Association has a state director in Hudson Valley and a board of 11 members. They meet every other month, with one general membership meeting in March. Smaller committees meet regularly.

Since growers have started making cider in New York state, it has had a tremendous economic impact, according to information provided by Jonathan. From five licensed producers in 2011, the industry has grown to more than 125 in 2023, employing 6,148 and resulting in $520 million in wages.

The New York Cider Association says the cider industry has a $1.7 billion total economic impact in the state.

The state will celebrate Cider Week New York May 5 to 14 and Oct. 6 to 15. More information can be found on their website at www.ciderweeknewyork.com.