About five months after being told by state inspectors that they needed to make costly upgrades to their cider press operation, the owners of Maple Ridge Orchard say they have come to an agreement they feel is much more tolerable.
Like many Wisconsin cider presses, Maple Ridge owners Lisa and Domingo Rodriguez had been exempt from state regulation. However, last fall, Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection inspectors said the press must be enclosed in order to meet retail food-establishment license requirements, because the orchard sells other fall staples such as baked goods and caramel apples.
Maple Ridge, located near Cashton, was granted a 90-day conditional retail food license through the end of November, but needed to work with the state to come to an agreement.
Wisconsin statute notes a retail food establishment that sells items such as fresh fruit, vegetables, honey, cider or maple syrup can operate without a retail license “if no other food processing activities are conducted at that retail food establishment.”
Erica Smith, attorney with the Institute for Justice, a national nonprofit that litigates to limit the size of government power, who has been working with the orchard, said DATCP and orchard owners recently finalized their agreement, which means instead of having to build a commercial kitchen for the cider press, they can keep the press outside and encompass it in a screened structure. A mobile outdoor sink also will help meet requirements, she added.
“We appreciate that DATCP was willing to back down from their original position that would have required this small family farm to spend tens of thousands of dollars on their cider operation that they have been safely operating for years,” Smith said. “DATCP sat down with the family and took a much more reasonable position.
Domingo and Lisa Rodriguez said while they feel should have been exempted from the rule, they have decided to comply with the new requirements.
“Overall, we feel that we were treated in a courteous and professional manner, and have decided to comply with their requirements,” Lisa and Domingo said. “The alternative would mean to quit pressing cider or enter into a prolonged legal battle. At a time when small farms are quickly vanishing, scrutinizing a 12-acre apple orchard that’s only open 8-10 weeks of the year and has never had any health violations or complaints seems a bit silly.”
Their agreement made clear that Maple Ridge would no longer have to spend tens of thousands of dollars of unnecessary changes to their cider press operation. Instead, they could just do a couple minor changes costing just a couple hundred dollars.