The 34th iteration of Fortuna’s Apple Harvest Festival took place under a patchy gray sky this weekend. But any weather-related gloom seemed to be easily countered with the bright cider from Clendenen’s Cider Works, as smiles and laughter could be seen and heard wherever one looked.
Although Clendenen’s Cider Works was one of several sites taking part in the celebration of the festival, it’s where the festival originated. Drew Clendenen said his grandmother, who lived to be 101, came up with the idea in 1984. Clendenen said what started out as a 50-person or so event with free donut holes and cups of cider has now become a town-wide celebration. Several spots across Fortuna participated in the festival, with downtown transformed into a vendors market featuring a mini skate park and music stage.
Clendenen’s Cider Works however, seemed to be the main attraction. Clendenen said the property was first purchased in 1908, and that the original orchard on the property dated back to 1869. While some of the trees from that orchard are still producing apples, Clendenen said the farm now produces about 30 varieties of apples, including what he called “moderns” such as Fuji, Pink Lady, and Granny Smith, as well as older varieties like Mutsu, Spitzenberg, and Bellflower apples.
Clendenen is the fourth generation to work on the farm and says he has, “really grown to embrace and love” what he does.
“There was never pressure from my parents to do this,” he said. “Farming seems to be a good fit.”
Clendenen said the farm is rich in history. Even the cider press is over 100 years old. A living and working relic from 1916, the press has been kept functional with the help of “a good welder and machinist.”
“Living on a farm, you learn to do everything yourself,” Clendenen said.
Clendenen’s favorite aspect of the festival is that is connects everyday people to otherwise unseen aspects of agriculture and ranching. “Humboldt County is rich in agricultural history,” Clendenen said. While the festival celebrates apples, Clendenen sees it as a celebration of the agricultural bounty available in Humboldt County. Clendenen described how the burgers that were being grilled came from local beef. The buns, he said, had local wheat in them. The dressings? Those were local too.
“There aren’t a lot of places in the world that have that,” he said.
Clendenen said the festival is planned over the course of two to three months by a loose committee and is largely volunteer driven. Finding enough volunteers to help organize the event can be difficult, he said. But this aspect is one of the most remarkable features of the festival according to Clif Clendenen, Drew Clendenen’s father.
“This is a town wide event fueled by scores of volunteers who donate their time and energy to make it a town wide success,” he said.
Analia Martinez was one of many who took part in the orchard tours at Clendenen’s Cider Works.
“It was very informative, I learned the story of the apple orchard and it was fun for my son,” she said. It was Martinez’s first time at the festival. For her, the best part was the hayrides, which transported festival attendees across Fortuna, from one element of the festival to another. “It’s a good festival,” she said. “There’s a nice sense of community.”
Philip Santos can be reached at 707-441-0506.