Made in the Northwest: Athol Orchards
ATHOL, Idaho – Growing up near the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, Nikki Conley always had an affinity for apples.
“A really nice memory of my childhood would just be going up in the mountains, but always stopping at those road side stands and just walking in and picking up whatever bags of apples we wanted,” recalled Conley, who owns Athol Orchards with her husband, Erreck.
So when Nikki and Erreck moved to N. Idaho in 2016, she immediately planted the seeds of Athol Orchards, growing ancient and antique varieties of her favorite fruit, like Roxbury Russets and Tolman Sweets.
“I really wanted to try and tie in the historical portion of growing apples and where they came from and why they were so important to the early Americans that came over (from Europe),” she said.
But the inspiration for Athol Orchards signature product came from Conley wanting something better than maple syrup for her daughters’ breakfasts.
“You look at the list of things and it’s all just chemicals and corn syrup and corn syrup and corn syrup,” Conley said.
So she came up with the idea of a homemade apple cider syrup.
“I toiled over the stove and I put together a few ingredients and it turned into this nice, thick, spicy hug in a bottle,” laughed Conley. “It was like a hug. And it’s like having a hug on your pancakes and a hug on your foods.”
It was such a hit with her daughters, the Conleys decided to bottle it and sell it at local farmers markets.
“People would just trickle through and taste it and buy a bottle and walk away. And every time we would do a market, we would sell out,” she explained. “When they taste it, they become addicted.”
Athol Orchards now produces thousands of bottles of apple cider syrup out of a commercial kitchen in Sandpoint. The Super 1 Foods in Athol was the first store to carry the syrup, but it’s now available in several stores.
“We’re in all Idaho Super 1s. And then we started getting into Yoke’s (Fresh) Markets and North 40 Outfitters in Coeur d’Alene,” said Conley.
Customers use it for more than just pancakes. Conley says they put it on everything from salads to barbecue.
“They come and tell us, ‘This is what you do. You put it on all the things.”
Athol Orchards even has an apple cider caramel it makes seasonally.
“It’s literally like eating a spicy caramel apple,” said Conley.
But the Conleys hope to one day bring all of their production inside a facility on their Athol farm. And they just launched a Kickstarter campaign to help make it happen.
“This needs to be something people can come out and observe, like a value added product that’s made on a farm,” explained Conley. “And it’s small scale and it’s intimate and authentic.”
Conley says the idea it to share her love of apples and allow people to connect with the farm.
“Let people come out and press their own cider, learn about pollinating. Just help people slow down their lives a little bit.”
And bring home some apple cider syrup while they’re at it.
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