14th Apr 2021
We meet Robert Simpson, juice maker and grower at Eva’s Organics, the family-owned organic market garden and box scheme whose wildlife-friendly handmade organic juice is in a class of its own.
If you took one bottle from every batch of Eva’s Organics apple juice and lined them all up in a row, you’d see their colour evolve with the apple harvest.
“We see a change from pink to golden yellow to orange through the course of the year,” says Robert, who’s the driving force behind the award-winning juice enterprise at Eva’s Organics, the box-scheme business founded by his parents.
That no two batches of Eva’s Organics juice are alike is a reflection of the love and care with which Robert hand picks, hand presses, hand blends and hand bottles the juice from seven varieties of apple that the Simpson family grows in a two-acre orchard near Carlisle.
He blends each batch by taste to balance the qualities of whatever apples are in season – hence the change of hue (they all produce different-coloured juices). Some are sweeter, some more tart – such as Cumbria’s 18th-century cooking apple Keswick Codlin – so he fine tunes each blend until sugar and acid are perfectly matched.
Robert had recently graduated in environmental science when he returned to Low Luckens farm in North-East Cumbria to help out at Eva’s Organics, the organic home delivery business run by his parents, Mike and Debbie. Challenged by the problem of how not to waste the blemished orchard apples that “don’t look perfect but still taste great,” he tried his hand at pressing them in a domestic juicer.
“People liked it,” he says. In fact, the judges at the 2018 Great Taste Awards gave it a coveted two stars just a year after he went into commercial production. Tebay Services was one of his very first customers.
Robert now presses up to 1,000 large bottles’ worth each week at Low Luckens, carrying trugs of fruit from the apple store to his juice room in a converted farm building. Working alone, he washes and sorts every apple by hand. “I’m a bit of a perfectionist,” he says, explaining how he cuts off any bruises before milling and then pressing his apples using a hand-operated hydraulic press. “Because I do it in small batches it’s very labour intensive.”
It is normal for him to work 12-13 hour days. When he’s not pressing and bottling juice he is in the polytunnels with his Dad, tending to the salads, vegetables and fruit that they coax out of Cumbria’s wet, dark, ungenerous soil through sheer hard work and determination. “Dad has spent years building up the soil fertility by adding organic matter, digging, broadforking, rotavating,” Robert says.
Like his parents, he is motivated by strong environmental convictions. “Our ethos here is to grow organic food in a way that enhances biodiversity and promotes soil fertility,” he says. “We don’t use artificial fertilisers, pesticides, insecticides or fungicides. Any profits we make go straight back into the business to fund projects that are beneficial to wildlife.”
This winter [2020-1] they began planting 700 apple trees as part an ambitious agroforestry scheme, transforming an 11-acre plot of grazing land at Low Luckens into a new orchard. Rows of fruit trees will be interspersed with organic raspberry bushes and rhubarb plants fertilised with green manures alongside wildlife havens such as a pond and wildflower patches.
It is good news for wildlife and those who study it – various experts and academics are conducting research into the impacts of the growing methods used at Low Luckens farm.
And it is good news for all of us who love apple juice that’s as crisp and invigorating as a freshly picked apple. When the orchard matures in about five years’ time, Robert says, they’ll have enough apples to produce twice as much juice.
Eva’s Organics Apple Juice and Apple & Raspberry Juice is sold in 250ml and 750ml bottles in our Farmshop throughout the apple season (September to March) and as long as their apple stores last.
Breakfast is served from 7am until 11:30am