By Amy Weaver Quan
Melissa Madden’s Open Spaces Cider might be the newest cider on the Finger Lakes block, but its roots go back, way back. Though she’s been farming and making cider in the Finger Lakes since 2001—until recently, most of those years as co-founder and farmer at Good Life Farm/Finger Lakes Cider House—Melissa has her gaze fixed much further back than on her time in the area.
“The story of the presence of apples and of their ability to naturalize and thrive here is tied to the stories of the land and history in the Northeast.” Melissa isn’t just talking about the apples in her cider; She’s talking about the history of this region, writ large. For her, this means thinking deeply about the history of colonization, not as an afterthought, but as part and parcel of land access, social justice and, yes, even cider.
“Gratefully found fruit fermented in the Finger Lakes on GAYOGOH’O:NO’ land.”
This acknowledgment of place and practice frames the mission of Open Spaces Cider and hints at why using only foraged apples is so important to Melissa.
“As a forager you need to be curious,” she said. This ability is not just needed to find the trees, but also to question “why the apple trees are even here.” In crafting her new cider, she turned down many offers of apples and instead chose to use her knowledge of the wild trees to find the fruit, primarily on public lands and, as she says, “on the edges” of accessible spaces.
Acknowledging that access to land continues to be difficult for BIPOC farmers—Black people, indigenous people, and other people of color, Melissa is building reparations payments into her business plan for Open Spaces, a process already begun with the cider’s first release in November 2020.
In collaboration with long-time friends Autumn Stoscheck of Eve’s Cidery, and Deva Maas and Eric Shatt of Redbyrd Orchard Cider, Melissa offered her first Open Spaces cider to customers only as part of a Holiday Reparations Pack. Customers paid for a three-pack of ciders and the cideries donated 83 percent of the retail value—basically, all but the cost of the bottles—to Quarter Acre for the People.
Community, collaboration, land access, and history—In speaking with Melissa about cider, these words came up again and again. So, while Open Spaces Cider doesn’t yet have a mission statement, it absolutely has a mission. And, yes, there will be more cider.
Where—and when—to buy
Open Spaces Cider is gearing up for its second bottling right now—mid-January—and should be available again by spring. I was lucky enough to taste the first release and, to be honest, it’s hard to describe, but in a good way. Floral, but not overly; cloudy, but not murky. And delicate, delicate bubbles carrying the scent of the apples forward. Though I sipped it after snowshoeing, I could easily see myself drinking this cider all summer long.
In keeping with her focus on community, Melissa’s plan is to distribute the cider through select independent markets in Tompkins and Seneca counties. Her bottles are returnable and she wants people to bring them back, refill them, and support other farmers and storekeepers in the region. Stay tuned.
Amy Quan lives, writes and drinks cider in Covert. When not outside with her husband planting food and trying to restore the old orchard on their farmland, she teaches writing at Ithaca College.