Someday in the near future, your glass of New York cider could come from apples grown in Albany's Washington Park.
"This is really such a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect on our past in this beautiful, historic park," said Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, speaking Sunday morning, shovel in hand, as the beginnings of an apple orchard were being planted along a slope above Washington Park lake near Thurlow Terrace. It marks a return to agriculture at the park, which was home to several World War II Victory Gardens.
Supporters of the orchard say the concept is a natural fit for the capital city, where the cider industry has taken root and taken off. Only Washington State produces more apples than the diverse crop found in the Empire State. "As far as we know, this is one of the first orchards of this type in an urban area in the country," said Alejandro del Peral , owner and cidermaker of Albany's Nine Pin Cider, the first state-certified farm cidery. "It started when the Washington Park Conservancy reached out to us about a sponsorship for an event they were throwing. We were discussing it in our team meeting and after a couple ciders and a big discussion, we as a team developed this concept of what about doing something way bigger with the park and planning this, you know, deciding to plant sort of a token small orchard in there and have it be a testament to New York's most prominent agricultural resource."
Sheehan says the planting begins a new chapter for the city and the park. "We really are creating new history. And I spoke about you know, a hundred years from now what this might be looked upon as and what it might mean for the future of the city. And so it is great to see that we are really celebrating the farm-to-table movement that has really driven a lot of economic development in the city. Nine Pin Cidery started with, you know, just an idea, and is now a growing and burgeoning business in the Warehouse District. And to be able to support a local apple orchard is also a part of this movement. And so, it really was great to be able to plant an urban apple orchard, and there's gonna be informative signage so that when people come and look at it they can learn about how important apples are to the economy in New York State and what it means to the city of Albany."
All of the apples, according to the plan, will be used by Nine Pin. But del Peral says the fruits of the orchard will be within everyone's reach. "It is a public orchard so people are welcome to come and grab an apple when they're hungry. There's eight trees, eight different varieties. The idea is to highlight that New York has the most diverse apple crop in the country, and we actually encourage that. Some of these varieties are gonna be apples that people aren't very familiar with. We're gonna have a couple of russet varieties, the apples are gonna look like potatoes but they taste delicious."
Samascott Orchards of Kinderhook provided the trees, which del Peral says could take two years before yielding fruit. The Washington APrk planting kicked off Earth Week in Albany. Again, Mayor Sheehan: "This will be part of the great history of this incredible park. So whether it's thinking differently about the wonderful lake behind us and using that to combat global climate change to really looking at how we can activate this space and celebrate the cideries and distilleries and the new businesses that are cropping up and are really the future of this city."