Blake Farms is celebrating 75 years.
The original family-owned farm in Armada was established in 1946 by Gerald and Elizabeth “Lovey” Blake. Once a 100-acre apple orchard, the farm is now 1,000 acres and home to a cider mill, “funland,” tasting room and hard cider production facility. Over the years, the family has expanded to three locations in Armada and Almont.
Blake Farms’ roots inspire its mission be a destination for families.
“Our whole experience and our whole mantra — everything we stand for — is, ‘Making memories for every generation,’” says Andrew Blake, president of Blake’s Family of Companies. “So, we’re really into family entertainment, family experiences and family products, and we serve our customers and their families through food, beverage and entertainment.”
The 75th-anniversary celebration is no exception. To mark the milestone, Blake’s Orchard and Cider Mill held a weekend-long event June 4-6 that included pig races, pony rides, raffles and more, and culminated in a fireworks display.
“This is our 75th year,” Andrew says. “And we’re really trying to give back to the community in our 75th year, give back to our heritage and give back to our loyal customers who have always been with us and helped us grow what is now a business and a family of companies.”
And over the past 75 years, Blake’s has never lost sight of what the Blake family does best: farming.
“We’re a very interesting operation, because we grow, press and ferment products right on-site,” Andrew says. “And we’re farmers first, and we’re really proud of that heritage.”
Andrew Blake got involved in the family business when he returned home after graduating from Michigan State University. He pitched the idea for Blake’s Hard Cider Co. to his father and uncle, and in 2013 that company was launched.
“And that’s kind of been my baby ever since,” Andrew says.
The motivation for expanding into hard cider was rooted in practicality. As an agriculture-based business, Blake’s has always looked for sustainable, year-round revenue sources, Andrew says. Before Blake’s Hard Cider, all of the farm’s products had a relatively short shelf-life of two to five weeks, whereas cider can last up to a year on the shelf.
“That really helped us really get to market and expand our reach beyond just metro Detroit into kind of a national footprint,” he says.
Blake’s Hard Cider offers a variety of products with adventurous flavors.
“We have a range of hard ciders, from super dry to very sweet,” Andrew says. “Our No. 1 seller that you’ll see in retailers across the country is Triple Jam, followed by El Chavo, which is a mango habanero cider. And then of course we’ve found a lot of success in our seasonal lineup.”
For its 75th anniversary, Blake’s has released an apple pie-inspired hard cider, made with a base of dessert apples and a taste of cinnamon and vanilla. It’s available through the end of the year — and along with Blake’s other hard ciders, can be found at all three of Blake’s retail locations as well as in stores throughout the Midwest.
Blake’s Hard Cider is now the largest craft cidery in the region, with products sold in 16 states. And it’s growing rapidly.
Rising to the Occasion
While Blake’s Hard Cider has been a great success, it hasn’t come without challenges. Expanding into and investing in hard cider was a risk, but it has more than paid off.
“It was a new industry at the time, so it was really taking a risk and kind of not knowing how it would be received,” Andrew says. “But Michigan is a very apple- and fruit- and farm-focused environment — we have a diverse agriculture here in Michigan, and it’s just a great landscape to bring product that comes from our region.
“And Michiganders come out in droves in the fall to visit their orchards or cider mill or u-pick operations, and we’re really trying to leverage that through offering products that represent that year-round.”
As Blake’s has grown its hard cider business, so has demand for hard ciders in Michigan and beyond.
“Hard cider is gaining momentum around the country, with more than 1,000 producers in the nation,” says Jenelle Jagmin, director of the Michigan Craft Beverage Council. “The Blake family’s long agricultural history positioned them to hit the ground running when they began the cider line.”
The family-owned company’s success highlights the strength of the broader Michigan craft beverage industry, Jagmin says.
“Blake’s is a perfect example of Michigan’s agriculturally robust craft beverage scene,” she says. “It starts with what the Blake family has been doing well for decades — growing great apples.”
And as Blake’s celebrates its past, it’s also looking to the future.
“Our goal is to be the No. 1 craft hard cider company in the country, and we want to be a Top 5 destination spot in the U.S.,” Andrew says. “And we think we can do that if we continue to offer great family experiences.”