Cidernomics is a set of ramblings about the economics and social characteristics of rural, low-tech small businesses. It is written by me, Eleanor Leger, founder of Eden Specialty Ciders in Newport, Vermont.
Eden Ciders is a very small producer of high-end alcoholic ciders made from locally grown specialized apple varieties. Eden began in 2007 when we bought an abandoned dairy farm, planted 1,000 apple trees, and started making experimental batches of ice cider in our basement from apples we purchased from local growers. We got our wine license in early 2008, and started selling commercially that year. Since then, we’ve grown, hired people, moved the facility out of our basement, and expanded our distribution to about 15 states. But we are still a very small business, in a very small town, in a very rural, economically depressed corner of our state.
I studied Economics in college, have an MBA, and worked for The Man in Corporate America for 20 years, mostly because I was interested in learning how capitalism really worked from the inside – the people, the issues, the decision-making processes. Having money was nice too, no denying it.
But 10 years ago I was feeling I had learned what I wanted to from The System, I had seen what a CEO life was like from close enough to know that wasn’t for me: I didn’t aspire to the lifestyle or the work. I don’t mind driving a very well used car, cooking my own meals and cleaning up, or doing my own errands. While I try to be clean and neat in my appearance, I prefer comfort over fashion. I like puzzles, analytics, ideas, and making things. I’m happy to stay at home on Friday and Saturday nights with my husband, a nice meal, a good drink and a book in front of the fire.
So, Eden. This could have been a ‘vanity business’. I could have kept working in New York or Boston and hired people to run the business and not cared about whether it made any money ever. Some people do that for the ego-trip of pulling out a fancy bottle with their own label on it to impress others. I’ll admit to the ego thing, but it’s about having done it myself, and proving whether it’s possible to actually build a profitable business at a small scale in a region that needs more economic activity. Is it possible? Can you get the resources you need, find the markets, and produce at a low-enough cost to provide a return to the capital invested? Is this model a solution for rural economies where jobs and people have been leaving slowly but steadily for the past 50 years? If so, how? That’s my project.