Being careful not to smudge the bright unicorn painted on her cheek, Quincy Elementary first-grader Lena Jedra eyed the large, galvanized tub of golden apples down below and tried to see into the vintage apple press on tiptoes.
“Oh, you’re going to get to do this next year in second grade when I come to your school and show the kids how a real apple press works,” said volunteer Ray Nichol, chuckling. “But how’d you like to learn how to make apple juice today?”
Lena nodded enthusiastically and stepped up onto an overturned milk crate on the Main Street lawn in downtown Quincy. With help from her grandparents who were visiting from Fremont, Jerry and Kathy Sabo, she started adding apples to the wooden hopper sitting atop Nichol’s antique apple press.
Nichol was born and raised in Quincy and has been teaching local students the secrets of making great-tasting, fresh apple juice for 35 years. He mentioned how often one sees apple trees planted where old mining operations used to be and recalled that his weathered apple press had been rebuilt by his dad, Darrell, who found the contraption in an East Quincy barn 80 years ago.
“It’s been in our family all these years and I like to pass along these skills,” Nichol explained to observers who stood close by. “Otherwise, kids never really know where apple juice comes from, other than Safeway.”
The Oct. 28 apple-pressing event was part of a cheerful, well-attended “Community Appreciation Day” celebration hosted in two locations by the Quincy Natural Foods Co-op and its sister store, the Feather River Food Co-op in Portola.
The Quincy store was established 38 years ago on Harbison Street, eventually expanded to Main Street downtown, and later opened the Portola store. They have been holding their festive community thank-you day for 20 years now, according to the busy staff circulating throughout the health food store, serving up a bountiful buffet of delicious fall treats like vegan “Three Sisters Soup.”
Other capable hands working various apple presses in the autumn sunshine included local folks Kristin Winford, a couple who wanted to be known only as “John and Trisha from out Portola way,” and new Michigan-transplant-to-Quincy Mitch Poling who said the town is perfect for him, “Just the right amount of snow at Christmas and beautiful all the time.”
Local gardening teacher and co-op board member Emily Bryant coordinated approximately 18 volunteers through the nonprofit Community Connections program to harvest over 17 bushels of apples from trees around the area.
Much of the fruit was made available for the co-op apple pressing and the rest will go to local food banks, school lunch programs, the Dawn Garden in Indian Falls for its apple pressing, and “anywhere else it’s needed,” Bryant said, smiling as live music drifted from the front courtyard of the store.
The “Potluck” duo of Larry McNeil on guitar and Dan Reyes on harmonica kept the crowd entertained with standards and favorites all afternoon as shoppers enjoyed special discounts and pumpkin-painting lessons.
Over under a shady patio umbrella, 3-year-old Brin Hepner of Meadow Valley got her wish when Dani Ogletree of Quincy painted a special owl on her face for the occasion. Why an owl?
“I love owls,” Brin said shyly, explaining, with help from her mom and family, “They can fly, they eat mice. They like to be out in the night.”
Meanwhile inside the store, apron-wearing co-op staffers kept busy returning smiles throughout the day’s gathering and someone working the free-samples buffet glanced up and said, “It’s really nice to be able to give something back to the community for all these years of generous support. We’re so glad they could come out.”