COLONIE — On the surface, it was an odd mix — Shaker Heritage Society, Project Growth, an Albany County program that works to teach probationers real world skills, an apple orchard owner and the proprietor of a downtown Albany hard cidery.
But, in the end it all made perfect sense and was, in a way, similar to the early Shakers who settled in to the area seeking a new life with agriculture, business and innovation at the core of their existence.
“I was hoping Alajandro and Jake would be able to participate because they have so much valuable knowledge to share about the orchard and the cultivation and the hands on element for the young men of Project Growth, but also being business owners and entrepreneurs they provide an example of different career options and ideas,” said Johanna Batman, the executive director of the Shaker Heritage Society. “It was a wonderful morning. We made it through the rain and we planted 25 new trees and we are ready for spring.”
The small orchard across Heritage Lane from the Shaker site produces a plethora of apples every fall, many of which were going to waste until Alejandro Del Peral, the owner of Nine Pin Cider Works, the state’s first farm cidery, decided he could use the fruit at his place. The cidery, founded in 2013, exclusively uses apples and other produce grown in New York state.
“Every fall we come up here and I climb these trees and shake the apples to the ground and we make a special cider out of it called the ‘Shaker Shaker.’ I shake the trees and the apples come from the Shaker site,” he said after planting a sapling. “We released it last year and it was very popular. When you get a maintained orchard like this the fruits have a unique quality to it and the varieties are perfect for a hard cider.”
Project Growth is a restitution-based program run by the Albany County Probation Department that gives young people a chance to do some work, learn about a skill and in turn get a stipend to help towards whatever restitution payments the probationers have to make with a little something extra for their pocket, said Dan Barrett, who works at gang prevention and programing at the ACPD.
“We often collaborate with unions so they can see what a trade offers and this year we thought it would be a good collaboration with Nine Pin and Shaker Heritage so they can see what it takes to plant trees and the end result of planting the trees,” Barrett said. “It gives these kids some self-esteem, it dangles a carrot out there and shows them there might be a future in something we introduce them too. It keeps them focused and helps get them ready for the workforce.”
The saplings were donated by Samascott Orchards in Kinderhook, Cummins Nursery in Ithaca and Full Circus Farm in Pine Plains.
It’s not the first time Project Growth has helped out at Shaker Heritage. Last fall, probationers built a split rail fence on the historic site nestled between the Albany International Airport and a slew of commercial development.
“They really did a fabulous job,” Batman said.
Shaker Heritage, like everything, was closed for the better part of a year thanks to COVID-19 but did manage to have its traditional holiday sale with social distancing and masks, of course.
“We are all looking forward to this summer,” she said. “The staff is vaccinated and the community is getting there and we are looking forward to enjoying each other’s company in a more relaxed atmosphere.”
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