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A Forest of Apples

February 3, 2011
Close your eyes for a moment. It’s a beautiful, sunny, warm day in May. You’re standing in the midst of a vast forest of apple trees in bloom. You drink in the intoxicating fragrance of the blossoms and listen to the pulsing hum of busy bees as they go about the business of gathering pollen.

If we were to return to the apple forest in fall, when the promise of those blossoms materializes in the form of fruit, we would be in for another fragrant treat.  The ripening apples would have an amazing diversity of smells and tastes.  Aside from the "normal" apple taste, some would taste and smell like roses, some like anise, some like coconuts, some like orange and lemon peels, some like strawberries, some like pineapples, some like green bananas, some like pears, some like potatoes, and some even like popcorn.  Other apples would be "spitters," tasting sour or bitter.

Your presence in the forest is, of course, make believe.  But it may surprise you to know that the forest is not.  Before Carl Frederich von Ledebour happened upon this incredible apple forest in the early 1830s, it was unknown to the Western world.  It lies deep within a mountain range in what is now Kazakhstan (see map below).  In the midst of the forest is the bustling city of Almaty (meaning "fatherland of apples" in Kazakh).  The location has both its good points and bad points as far as the fate of the forest is concerned: good, because the proximity of the growing city has allowed scientists to access to the forest, which in the past was remote and almost inaccessible; bad, because the city is encroaching on the forest as land is cleared for high-rises and vacation homes.  The apple forest region on the map is circled in green.

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Antique Apples and the Modern Orchard

March 31st 2011
As with so many familiar cycles where the old becomes fresh and new again, Andy Sietsema, fourth generation apple farmer, is at the forefront of the revitalization of his family's orchard, focused on bringing the past back in vogue.   

"My great-grandfather bought all the land out there during the great depression," Sietsema begins.

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What’s driving our favorite fruit into decline?

February 7th 2011
You've heard the hackneyed phrase "as American as apple pie." But America is not taking care of the apples -- or the orchard-keepers -- that have nourished us for centuries. In 1900, 20 million apple trees were growing in the U.S.; now, not even a fourth remain in our orchards and gardens. Today, much of the apple juice consumed in the U.S. is produced overseas. Of the apples still grown in America, just one variety -- Red Delicious -- comprises 41 percent of the country's entire crop, and 11 varieties account for 90 percent of all apples sold in stores.

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Apple Varieties Disappear from U.S. Markets

Janurary 5th 2011
It's hard to imagine that a fruit as ubiquitous as an apple could qualify for an endangered foods list. After all, you could walk into any grocery store right now and be greeted by rows and rows of brightly polished red and green specimens.

Look a little closer, and you'll see that these apples probably belong to one of the eleven apple varieties that make up over 90 percent of apples grown and eaten in the U.S., with Red Delicious alone constituting a hefty 41 percent. Now consider that a century ago, more than 15,000 varieties unique to North America populated our landscape with beautifully striped and spotted skins and names like the Dula Beauty, the Gloria Mundi, and the Newton Pippin.


Only one fifth of those varieties survived, with 81 percent of those precious few considered "endangered" on the marketplace. A new report from Slow Food USA, Noble Fruits - A Guide to Conserving Heirloom Apples, draws attention to the rapidly declining number of apple varieties - and proposes some solutions along the way.

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