The Year of the Heirloom Apple

By Susan Littlefield

As apple harvest season approaches, take a moment to consider that 'Delicious' apples account for 41% of the apple crop in the U.S., and only 11 varieties comprise 90% of the apples sold in chain grocery stores in this country. This lack of diversity troubles the organization Renewing America's Food Traditions (RAFT) Alliance, which has designated 2010 as the Year of the Heirloom Apple. Concerned about the loss of genetic diversity in apples, as well as the loss of traditional knowledge of apple culture, RAFT Alliance has proposed that ninety endangered antique and heirloom apple varieties in each of the regions of the country with the highest surviving apple diversity- the Great Lakes, New England and Appalachia- be targeted for recovery.

To help accomplish this, they have published Forgotten Fruits Manual and Manifesto: Apples, available as a download from their website. This 31 page publication begins with a brief history of apple diversity in this country, addresses the factors contributing to the loss of apple varieties and concludes with suggestions for ways to help restore diversity in apple production.

So if you plan on planting apples in your home garden, consider including some of the delicious antique and heirlooms varieties adapted to your area. And support those growing these diverse selections commercially when you buy fruit at farmers markets, orchards, CSAs and markets.

For more information on RAFT Alliance go to: RAFT. To download their publication on apples, go to Forgotten Fruits Manual and Manifesto: Apples. For a listing of some mail-order sources of heirloom apples, go to Heirloom Apples.

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