CUSHING, Maine — When life gives positive people lemons, they make lemonade. When life gave “Pastor Chuck” too many apples, he made applesauce.
Charles Waite Maclin, aka “Pastor Chuck,” simply had too many apples from his orchard. He couldn’t sell them all from his Pleasant Point Road stand or at farmers markets.
The laws of supply and demand.
So he started making applesauce for a few friends and neighbors. A retired Episcopal minister and active counselor, he was used to doing good things for other people.
“I have been in the business of nurturing people all my life, and this is just another way of nurturing people,” Maclin said.
He never hoped or prayed that his applesauce (and now apple butter and apple salsa) would become one of the fastest-growing, award-winning products in the locally grown, organic food niche. “I never, ever expected this,” he said from his Portland office.
Maclin, 75, now finds himself too busy for his counseling practice as he struggles to manage apple product sales which have tripled in the past year to 1,000 cases in 160 stores from Maine to Maryland, New York to Wyoming.
Now that ain’t applesauce.
Maclin was born in North Carolina and served as a minister in North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia. In 1979 he married Christine Anderson, whose family had roots in Cushing. He summered at the Cushing family farm, which had a small orchard.
“I was always gardening. I loved to see things grow,” Maclin said. Then a catalog was dropped in the mailbox from Stark Brothers Nursery. He bought some seedlings and was thrilled to see them grow in the flinty Cushing ground. “There was so much ledge that you would sink a pole in the dirt. If it went down three feet, that’s where the tree went,” he said.
He bought 60 seedlings — a combination of Macs, Jonamacs, Wealthys and Lodis. When the trees started bearing fruit, the Maclins would bag the apples and sell them by the road in a trust system. Soon, they had too many apples left over.
So Maclin took the surplus and began making applesauce.
The more he made, the more the compliments flowed. “I had never done it before, but people liked it. I had no license, so I couldn’t sell it. I gave it to family, friends and neighbors,” he said.
In 2004, he got a packing company to develop some samples. He started delivering samples along Route 1, first in Wiscasset then Thomaston. “I will always be thankful for those people who took a chance on me,” he said. Maclin, a sales force of exactly one, started driving samples around the midcoast area.
The laws of supply and demand.
The demand grew so fast that the tiny Cushing orchard supply was exhausted. Maclin had to contract with Ricker Hill Orchard in Turner, reputed to be the largest organic apple orchard on the East Coast. The demand continued to explode, especially after a successful 2007 appearance at the Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center in New York City.
“I think it is so popular because there are no artificial sweeteners,” he said. “We use organic cane sugar for the traditional applesauce and cider for the sugar-free products. People want to avoid fructose corn syrup. I have a hard time finding a fructose-free soft drink. The color is different, too. Our applesauce is much darker be-cause of the cinnamon and cloves. I think the color makes it stand out. And they like the ‘Pastor Chuck’ folksy image with my mug on the cover.”
The label says, “Taste this and know the difference between good and evil.”
The Pastor Chuck nickname came from a cousin and seemed a perfect product name.
Eventually, the Maine processor could not handle the increased demand and Maclin was forced to move out of state to Kime’s Cider Mill in Pennsylvania, 10 miles north of Gettysburg.
“Of course we are concerned with the carbon footprint of shipping Maine apples to Pennsylvania,” Maclin said. “We are doing an extensive search, hoping to start up a local operation. We are looking at an Aroostook County proposal, which would create a few jobs up there.”
This year, the Maine Grocers Association named the Pastor Chuck Orchards the Food Processor of the Year for Maclin’s passionate involvement with the Maine Food Producers Alliance. The company is working to develop Maine production facilities with the Food Producers Alliance of Hallowell and executive director Val Jardine. No longer the lone salesman, Maclin is assisted by two distributors and one assistant buyer. The product is now on the shelves of retail giant Whole Foods.
“I am overwhelmed by the cooperation of the Maine food producers. They act as cooperators not competitors,” he said.
The company will use New York State apples to fulfill a contact with New York City schools for bulk, gallon-size applesauce containers. The apples will not be organic, but locally grown, which is almost as important, Maclin said.
The aim of the company is to continue to maintain high-quality apple products and to “get big enough to start making some money, maybe in another year. We are close to breaking even now,” Maclin said. He has pledged to donate 1 percent of profits to the community.
Pastor Chuck said, in spite of the New York City contract, his other products will always be made with organic Maine apples.
“I swear,” he said.