March 4, 2010

Farm to celebrate apple harvest

DEBORAH SAYER

— By

Staff Writer

Morris Farm, a nonprofit agricultural education operation in Wiscasset, will celebrate apple harvest season Saturday by offering free cider-making and apple identification opportunities to the public.

Community members are invited to bring in their own apples and containers to make homemade cider using the farm's old-fashioned, hand-cranked wooden apple press and learn about the origins of apples growing in their backyard.

''Last year, John Bunker, an apple identification expert from Palermo, offered a workshop here that was attended by about 100 people,'' said Kim Anderson, a Morris Trust employee and community outreach organizer. ''This year, Cassie Tharinger, Bunker's apprentice, will be here to help identify apples.''

Tharinger, 28, of Providence, R.I., has been working with Bunker for nearly one year to prune, graft, identify and label hundreds of varieties of rare and heirloom apple trees found at old homesteads and abandoned apple orchards across Maine.

Tharinger, who has an art degree, initially set out to discover the origins of agriculture, community farming and cider-making practices of the old European and New England traditions.

''My goal is to open a hard cider-making business but, first, I wanted to learn the process of growing apples from someone who focused on old and unusual varieties,'' Tharinger said.

''It's been amazing. John has spent his life working to study and catalog old varieties of apples that are falling into obsolescence -- collecting (specimens) at every farm and old orchard he could find and studying extensively about different types from old farm texts.

''He started a nursery through the Fedco Seed Company 25 years ago to carry on a line of rare and unusual apples and fruit trees that you can't get anywhere else.''

Those trees were propagated by grafting wood from older varieties of trees onto new root stock to carry on a specific variety. The genetic information of a variety of apple is encoded in the branch, with the root stock determining the size of the fruit.

''Identifying apple trees can be tricky,'' said Tharinger. ''Apples don't grow true to seed. Those (grown from) tossed cores are genetically unlike the apple they come from. Heirloom varieties like Black Oxfords (a Maine native) can only be propagated by grafting.''

Tharinger and Bunker also oversee a fall farm share operation. Every two weeks, they put together 10-pound bags of mixed varieties of culinary and eating apples which they deliver to 50 members.

''These are interesting varieties of apples that you can't get at the supermarket,'' said Tharinger. ''We also include a bit about each variety's history and personal profiles of their growers.''

''I'm so lucky to learn from John,'' said Tharinger. 'He has this wealth of knowledge and is the curator of a living archive. His orchard is more of a repository for apples not commonly found elsewhere.''

Tharinger will end her training with Bunker next spring, when she will then apprentice with a cider maker. But first she'll share what she's learned about apple growing at the Morris Farm festival.

''I'm not the infinite encyclopedia that John is,'' said Tharinger. ''But I do know a lot about hard and sweet cider. I'll be there to answer questions and share some odd old recipes. We're asking people, if possible, to bring a picture of their tree to help us identify it.''

The event will include live music and a bake sale, with proceeds benefiting the farm's educational programs.

Staff Writer Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at:

dsayer@pressherald.com

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