Wind your way through West Sonoma County, and you’ll notice the area’s apple heritage on strong display. Orchards dot hillsides and line rural roads. Street signs bear the names Gravenstein, Apple Blossom, Candy Apple, and so forth. Two of the largest events in Sebastopol are the Apple Blossom Festival and Farm Trails’ very own Gravenstein Apple Fair. Indeed, the seal of the City of Sebastopol features a Gravenstein. However, the apple industry has also endured formidable economic challenges over the decades, as orchards and apple processors have given way to vineyards and other development. But all is not lost. On the contrary, there has been a resurgence in advocacy for local apples over the past decade, anchored by the last remaining apple cannery in Sonoma County, Manzana Products Company/North Coast Organic in Sebastopol. In this member spotlight, we chat with Alissa Trinei, Sebastopol native, Manzana’s Marketing Director, and longtime Gravenstein Apple Fair volunteer, to understand where the apple industry has been—and where it’s going.
What is the history of Manzana?
The company was founded in 1922 as Oehlmann Evaporators, a small fruit-drying operation. Sebastopol agriculture relied heavily on the train that ran through the heart of town, which in those days was lined with multiple apple canneries. Produce from these canneries was taken by train to Petaluma, where it was transferred onto steam-powered riverboats and taken to San Francisco via the Petaluma River. Fruit could be loaded in the afternoon and be on the breakfast table in San Francisco the next morning. A large fire destroyed the Oehlmann Evaporators facility in 1943. The site was rebuilt and renamed to Manzana; the name honored the Hispanic workforce who were, and continue to be, essential to the company’s success. Over the ensuing 60 years, West County’s apple canneries closed. By 2003 Manzana was the only remaining apple processor in Sonoma County. In 2012, Manzana was acquired by Agrial Groupe, an employee-owned cooperative based in France. Today, Manzana makes and sells apple sauce, vinegar, and juice under the North Coast Organic brand, as well as other store brands, distributed across the United States and throughout multiple countries around the globe.
How has Manzana changed with the times?
Agrial Groupe shares many values with Sonoma County producers including importance of the land, employees, and organic, minimally processed, good-for-you products, raised sustainably.
Despite the challenges based on the changing face of agriculture in Sonoma County, we continue to source organic Sonoma County apples, including Gravensteins, from Dutton Ranch, Marshalls, and Meyers Farming. Since the Agrial Group purchased us in 2012, Manzana has been very fortunate to have their commitment to upgrading our facility, adding new state-of-the-art equipment, and sourcing a consistent supply of organic apples. It has kept us growing and meeting demand for our high-quality products. Our facility is a mix of the old and the very new. We have some of the same equipment on our juice line that has been there for more than 60 years, and thanks to our parent company, a very efficient pouch line that puts our apple sauce into grab-and-go pouches. When you put it all together, we have a thriving cannery, the last of its kind, and we plan to keep going with our mission.
How does Manzana stay connected to the community?
Our membership in Farm Trails has been an integral part of connecting with the local ag community. We have been sponsors of the Gravenstein Apple Fair since 2012. I have been volunteering in the Apple Core for the Gravenstein Apple Fair for a number of years now. We feel very passionate about connecting the public to our local apple growers, and the fair is an excellent way to make those connections. We also support Farm to Pantry and the Redwood Empire Food Bank by donating products made from gleaned fruit. We donate the skins, cores, and other by-products to local ranchers as cow and pig feed. We are also affiliated with the local Slow Food chapter. We employ over 180 Sonoma County residents who make their livelihood at Manzana, some families for many generations.
What do you find most rewarding about your work at Manzana?
As a Sebastopol native, born and raised, I have always had a love for apples, especially the Gravenstein. Since coming to Manzana in 2013, it has been rewarding to work with our local apple growers and witnessing their hard work ethic, no matter how hard it gets, their perseverance is out of this world. Our employees are right up there too, often spanning multiple generations, really know how to honor our traditions and get the job done. We are all very proud of the products made at Manzana, and our commitment to the community is an integral part of how we operate every day.