It’s been a dream of ours for years to create our own brand of hard ciders and wines.
Farming has been a part of our family for three generations. Growing up, Dale and his father had a small orchard in Seven Hills. They sold wholesale to several of the farm markets in the Cleveland suburbs. After getting his degree in horticulture from OSU, Dale went on to Michigan State for his master’s. In 1974, he purchased an old dairy farm in Ashtabula County and named it Sunnydale Farms. He renovated it by planting orchards and berry fields.
A few years later, Dale married Peg, an English teacher from Brooklyn, Ohio. Peg joined him at the farm and began teaching at the local junior high. Together they expanded Sunnydale to encompass close to 200 acres. Not long after they could walk, Chris and Matt were helping out in the strawberry fields, taking on many other responsibilities as they got older.
By the early ’90s, Dale wanted a new challenge. After spending several years scouring the country for a new orchard, we moved to Washington state in 1996 to grow world famous Washington apples. Chris took a job at the Washington State University’s IAREC (similar to Ohio State’s OARDC facilities in Wooster) while attending college.
But not long after, we all missed being back east. Dale and Peg decided to try their hand at retirement and moved to the beautiful Smoky Mountains. Matt started attending college at UT. Chris was offered a spot in the graduate program at Case Western Reserve and jumped at the chance to move back to the area.
Retirement didn’t suit Dale and Peg, who were soon restless for another challenge. They both wanted to be back in Ohio, and they purchased Rittman Orchards in 2004. Chris wanted to get back into business with his parents, and he and Dale immediately started pulling out the much neglected orchards and replanting. As soon as Matt graduated, he also came on board full time.
In 2005 we rebuilt the market. Since then we’ve added many new crops and products. Peg has greatly expanded the bakery. Matt runs a stand at farmers’ markets in Cleveland and works with quite a few chefs to supply them with quality local produce. Chris and Dale manage the farming. The four of us are proud to be providing you with delicious homegrown fruits and vegetables and are excited to be taking the business in some new directions. Last year we started work on a hard cidery/winery at the farm. Look for Bent Ladder Cider and Wine to be opening this summer!
When it came time to name our venture, we wanted something that would be unique while also representing our “farm to bottle” commitment. A few years ago a worker fell off one of the orchard ladders. He was fine, but he bent the ladder. We tried fixing it, but it was still wobbly. We didn’t want anyone else falling off, so we set it way over to the side, away from everything else. Yet somehow when anyone needed a ladder, that was still the one they would take and more stability problems would ensue. Back then, we didn’t think of it as anything more than an amusing anecdote, but when we were brainstorming ideas for a name, Matt brought the story back up. Bent Ladder symbolizes the trials and tribulations of running an orchard, while also being an amusing story (since no one got hurt!) that we constantly look back on. And…we just think it sounds really good.