Farmhaus Cider Co. rejuvenates abandoned farm property

HUDSONVILLE – Farmhaus Cider Co. Co-Owner John Behrens had one thing in mind when he bought his late grandmother’s abandoned farmhouse and the surrounding property: preservation.

“There’s not a lot of people who have farms in their family that are 150 years old,” said Megan Odegaard, co-owner of Farmhaus Cider Co. “We just didn’t want that to go to waste.”

The property, located in Hudsonville, was in ruins. The barn was holding on by a prayer to stay standing. A collapsed grainery created a waist-deep pile of rotting wood and broken glass. The farmhouse was left in disrepair, and the surrounding forest and orchard were a bona fide treasure trove of antique artifacts.

And Behrens acquired it with no real plan what to do with it.

Behrens and Odegaard had been longtime homebrewers and friends had told them on a number of occasions that they should sell the cider they were making. They stewed on the idea for a while before things started coming together.

“We were just trying to figure out what to do with it,” said Odegaard, “and that’s when people had already been asking us [to sell cider], and we had a kind of lightbulb moment.”

They’ve been working non-stop ever since.

For the first two years, the Farmhaus team set to restoring the property on nights and weekends, starting with the leaning barn which now houses their cider-making equipment. When Behrens reflects on all the work they did, he thinks it would have been easier to tear the whole thing down and start from scratch.

That they didn’t shows Farmhaus’s dedication to history and authenticity.

That steadfast dedication bleeds into their cider making as well. The farm has been in Behrens’s family since his ancestors came to the United States from Germany around 150 years ago. With that in mind, Farmhaus seeks to make cider the way it was made in Germany.

“We’ve actually done a fair amount of research, both on the family side and understanding the types of cider that were made [in Germany],” said Behrens.

German styles are traditionally dryer and lower in alcohol content, Odegaard said. This informs Farmhaus’s style, but Behrens and Odegaard don’t allow authenticity to take precedent over their own tastes and what they think American cider drinkers prefer.

“We’re balancing authenticity and innovation,” said Behrens. “First and foremost we’re making things we like.”

“We like dry ciders, so we want to make dry ciders,” said Odegaard. Farmhaus also has a semi-sweet cider, Halbbitter, that they think will appeal to palates less accustomed to dryer styles.

Behrens and Odegaard are also including the old orchard in their rejuvenations. A few descendent trees remain on the property, and the two aren’t sure what varieties they produce. Behrens’s father thinks they may be the coveted Northern Spy variety, but the ancient trees are so tall and old they hardly produce enough apples to sustain a cider business.

Behrens and Odegaard have planted some new trees, but they don’t plan to use the orchard as the sole source for their cider.

“We’ve planted only heirloom varieties that are really hard to get a hold of,” said Odegaard. “That way we can try our hand at bringing the orchard back to what it originally was on the property.”

“That’s the ‘why’ behind it initially: ‘Let’s restore this to what it was,’” said Behrens. “Just like we’re restoring the barn to what it was, and we’d love to restore the house to what it was.”

They’ll continue to source apples from local farmers that they’ve researched and trust.

“It’s a matter of focusing on what we’re good at, and then supporting the local community with what they’re good at,” said Odegaard.

Now, Farmhaus is gearing up for the opening of its outdoor cider garden. The area is outfitted with German furniture, table settings made from found objects around the farm, romantic lights strung throughout, and a view of the historic farmhouse. Though it’s less than a mile off of the heavily trafficked 48th Avenue, the space is enshrouded in forest and invokes the feeling of having traveled miles out of town.

The only thing that’s missing is the permit to start serving there, which Behrens and Odegaard hope will arrive soon. In the meantime, you can catch Farmhaus at a slew of events in the next few weeks. Follow them on Facebook for more information.

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