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He's On A Mission To Save Heritage Apples
Jude Schuenemeyer and his wife, Addie, are on a mission to save heritage apple varieties unique to southwestern Colorado. Their Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project (MORP) seeks out old orchards and harvests scion wood for grafting and replanting, sometimes just in the nick of time.
  “We recently tracked down an apple called Colorado Orange to an old orchard in Canyon City,” recalls Schuenemeyer. “It’s one of the few that originated in Colorado.”
  The Schuenemeyer’s operate Let It Grow Nursery & Garden Market. They got involved in heritage apple varieties 12 years ago when a customer asked for an old variety. In asking around, they learned about other rare varieties and about the area’s history. Eventually they bought their own old orchard and began restoring it.
  “We planted 40 to 50 trees a few years ago, then another 30 last year and will plant another 100 this year,” says Schuenemeyer. “Out of those, I’ve only identified around 60 of them. Once they are blooming and producing fruit, we’ll be able to identify the rest.”
  Schuenemeyer hopes to do more than just build and preserve a collection of old apple varieties. He also hopes to capture and preserve the history of the region as a fruit-growing center in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, as well as to restore a lost fruit economy.
  “There are varieties of trees here that are near extinction. They were dropped from nursery catalogs years ago,” says Schuenemeyer.
  Many descendants of the settlers who planted these old orchards are still on the original farms or at least in the area. This has helped make Schuenemeyer’s work possible. He has scoured century old state fair contests and even the results of the 1904 World’s Fair fruit competition. In the records, he found the names of both apple varieties and the people who raised them. Finding their descendents or the farms they lived on has led him to the trees.
  “This area was known for its quality fruit,” says Schuenemeyer. “At the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Montezuma Valley apple orchards won three out of four gold medals. In 1906, the county won 101 out of 104 top prizes at the state competition.”
  To spread the word and encourage others, MORP sponsors pruning and grafting workshops throughout the winter. Schuenemeyer has also built up a network of orchard owner descendants who refer him to other old tree owners.
  Sometimes an orchard that once included hundreds of trees is reduced to a few trees in a fence line. Often times the owner has no idea what the variety is, only how it tastes. If the tree is threatened, Schuenemeyer will take scion wood (small branches) for grafting, even without knowing what variety it is.
  “We went into one orchard, a Noah’s Ark orchard with 40 some trees, all different,” says Schuenemeyer. “The owner was trying to sell it, so we took three grafts from each tree to preserve the orchard, though we didn’t know what they all were.”
  In that case, Schuenemeyer will give one set of young grafted trees back to the owner and keep one set for the MORP orchard. He will give a third set to a family who is restoring one of the World Fair’s gold medal winning orchards.
  Not every area has the history or number of orchard remnants that Schuenemeyer’s area does. However, he encourages others to learn grafting and get involved in preserving the old varieties. He notes that in the 1800’s there were as many as 18,000 recognized apple varieties in the U.S. Only 6,000 survive today.
  In addition to apples, Schuenemeyer is also working with cherries, peaches and other fruit trees. While his orchard is still young, eventually he hopes to set it up as a non-profit and make it available to others. In the meantime, he continues to collect scion wood and oral histories.
  “I hope we can get the funding to compile all the information we have gathered,” he says.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project, 90 Mildred Rd., Cortez, Colo. 81321 (ph 970 565-3099; letitgrow@q.com; letitgrownursery.com).

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2012 - Volume #36, Issue #3