Once a mainstay of Southwest Virginia’s economy, the apple industry has deep roots in the region. Today, local scientists are working to revive Appalachia’s apple-growing heritage in a unique way.
A few years ago, Jerry Bresowar, Justen Dick, Mark Finney, and Tom McMullen noticed a vacuum in the cider industry in Southwest Virginia. They decided to turn their collective knowledge of botany, farming, marketing, and cider-making into a business, founding Tumbling Creek Cider Company in 2018.
The cidery has a small-business model, with the owners either purchasing apples from a local grower or using ones they’ve grown themselves. The cider is produced seasonally in small batches on Justen’s family farm, where they also grow hops that are used in their ciders and where the orchards and cider barn are located. “We’re a craft cidery. We chose to keep that close,” said Justen.
The business began to take off soon after its first cider was produced in 2019 and has grown in revenue by about twenty percent every year, despite the challenges that came along with the pandemic. Tumbling Creek has maintained a focus on the local community as one of its pillars since its founding. The company also offers farm tours, farm-to-table dinners, and tree-grafting workshops.
True to their scientific backgrounds, the four co-founders of Tumbling Creek can often be found experimenting with everything from tree varieties to cider recipes. “We’ve been scheming on different flavor profiles and we’re looking at the southern brewing research on which things grow well,” said Justen.
As the business grew, it became evident to the owners that they would need additional infrastructure in place to support its expansion. In the spirit of “keeping things local,” the owners wanted to work with a local entity for a small business loan. They were familiar with People Incorporated and decided to pursue a loan through the agency. They closed on a $50,000 loan with People Incorporated in March 2023.
“It was a straightforward process. They really made it easy,” Justen said of obtaining the small business loan. “A lot of folks require you to move all your banking over to them. We wanted to go with a known entity that allowed more flexibility in terms of those restrictions.”
They used the loan to purchase a new bottler, new sprayer for the orchard, a new forklift, and other needed investments—everything from planting trees through bottling the finished product.
The founders have no plans of slowing down in the future. They are preparing to move into a new retail space, which will allow for a larger tasting room, a new music venue, and more space for community events. “With our growth curve, we’re ready for a larger space and a little bit more control of events,” said Justen.
The company is also looking into wholesale expansion to eventually offer their ciders across restaurants in Blacksburg and Roanoke. The infrastructure the founders were able to purchase with People Incorporated’s loan was an important component of increasing the company’s wholesale capabilities.
With their internationally award-winning ciders finding continued success locally, apple-growing may be making a comeback in Southwest Virginia.
“We feel that for the region of Southwest Virginia, Appalachia to be successful, we have to have people making things and growing things in Southwest Virginia,” said Justen. “Our focus is on the quality and on the community.”
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