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Vendor Profile: CGI Orchard

Sarah West

by Sarah West

Ed GeislerHaving grown up in the same house at the edge of Vancouver, WA where he now lives and farms, Ed Geisler of CGI Orchard cultivates his selection of specialty apples in a landscape that straddles new enterprise and nostalgia. Behind the old farmhouse where he lived as a boy, a handsome assortment of ornamental trees and shrubs snakes around the edge of the lawn. Two towering tree skeletons linger behind the newer plantings; long dead but not without sculptural appeal, Ed keeps them around for the wisteria vines to climb, flavoring the air with their sweet scent the way lilac fragrance filled that same garden in his childhood.

The small-acreage plot his parents purchased is largely still intact,Farm View though now surrounded by an ever-encroaching suburbia. The land was never farmed by his family, rather they leased it out in parcels to nearby growers for cutting hay, grazing animals or growing strawberries.

“The strawberries,” Ed recalled, “gave me my first fortune,” earning him spending money as a picker, and likely a king’s portion of berries over the years.
After retiring from a career selling high-end men’s clothing, Ed planted a 100-tree apple orchard in 2008 where his family once had a stand of cherry trees, inspired, in part, by memories of the snow-like effect of that week in spring when the white petals cut loose and swirl in the breeze. His orchard is also a dedication to his family’s next generation, the initials CGI connoting the orchard’s three owners, his young grandchildren Charlie, George and Ingrid.

From the beginning, Ed had the intention of selling the best apples he could produce. To ensure their quality of flavor and market value, he worked toward organic certification while his trees matured. Within two years Ed was bringing his fruit to markets in the Vancouver, WA area.

Ed prefers to grow apples at the artisan scale, weeding the base of each tree by hand, carting in chipped prunings from the previous winter and manure from his flock of sheep to mulch the orchard in the fall, waiting for each apple to reach its peak ripeness, picking and cleaning the harvest the evening prior to market.

“These apples are in the moment,” Ed told me. “I don’t store them; they’ve never been in a refrigerator. When you buy them, they come to you directly from the tree.”

Ed has noticed some customers smell an apple before tasting a sample, looking for the delicate fragrance that lingers on a fresh, fully ripe apple. And he has chosen varieties that stand out. His orchard ripens in succession through the fall, moving from one variety to the next, most of them unfamiliar to market shoppers. Ed clearly delights in introducing shoppers to his more obscure apples.

“I grow Honeycrisp because they are so popular, but when someone comes to my booth to buy them, I give them a sample of the Pinova and they say ‘that’s like Honeycrisp, only better!’ Much of the time, they ask if they can put the Honeycrisp back.”

Pinova is a German-bred apple with a lineage of traits drawn from Golden Delicious, Cox’s Orange Pippin and Duchess of Oldenburg varieties. Its red and maple-leaf-orange skin draw you to his table while its crisp, juicy flesh and floral tartness may elicit your own childhood memories of fall drives and fresh apples at the orchard.

Elstar, a variety developed in the Netherlands, has soft flesh with an effervescence that hits the tongue then quickly fades into a hint of sweetness. Ed calls these his “champagne apples” because of their unique flavor profile.

Belle de Boskoop, originating in a Dutchman’s orchard as a chance seedling in 1856, is perhaps Ed’s most visually striking apple. The russet coating through which its yellow and red hues peek out gives this heirloom apple the appearance of a dusty antique. Tart, aromatic and crisp, it is appealing both as a fresh-eating or cooking apple.

Because Ed’s orchard is small and he does not store his harvests more than one night, you must act quickly to get your preferred varieties. Most of his apples have already come and gone for the season, some lost in the strong winds of September’s unusually turbulent weather. Like all good things worth having, they are worth waiting for, too. Snag a taste of his final harvests, and keep an eye out for his return next fall.