Wednesday September 11, 2013 | 09:55 PM

 

John Bunker at 2012 Common Ground Country Fair

In 1850, there were 10,000 known varieties of apples in Maine. Today, 2,500 varieties of apples are grown in the United States. Apples are grown commercially in 36 states with approximately one out of every four exported to Mexico, Canada, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, United Kingdom, India, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. That is great, but thanks to state apple marketing promotion boards, who decided it would be easier to focus their attention on 100 varieties, thousands of varieties that had been nurtured for centuries have been disregarded by the masses. According to the University of Illinois the apple variety 'Red Delicious' is the most widely grown in the United States with 62 million bushels harvested in 2005.  That may be fine for some, but it certainly is not for a growing number of apple lovers in Maine.

For some Maine foodies, chefs, and home cooks, Super Chilly Farm’s “Out on a Limb” Heritage Apple CSA has become the source for apple varieties, that even regular subscribers have likely never heard of before. For five years, CSA members have picked up brown paper bags filled with the likes of Ashmead’s Kernel, Blushing Granny, Northern Spy, Tolman Sweet, and Whitney Crabapples. Not exactly one's usual supermarket finds. 

Super Chilly Farm in Palermo, Maine is the home of John Bunker and Cammy Watts, and the base of operations for the “Out on a Limb” CSA program. A self-taught preservation pomologist, John has been tracking down heirloom apples and pears, particularly those originating in Maine, for decades. His 2007 publication Not Far From the Tree: A Brief History of the Apples and the Orchards of Palermo, Maine chronicles his fruit exploring adventures.

Bunker can be found the third weekend of every September at Maine’s Common Ground Country Fair talking about, tasting and identifying apples at the Fedco Trees http://www.fedcoseeds.com/trees.htm tent. People are encouraged to bring their “mystery” apples for John to identify. Writer Rowan Jacobsen chronicles the weekend he spent with Bunker at last year’s fair in this Mother Jones article. 

Maine Heritage Orchard
This year at the fair, Bunker will also be talking about the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s (MOFGA) heritage orchard that will preserve and protect several hundred Maine apple and pear varieties.

John, having felt guilty for finding so many wonderful apples over the years, and not sharing them with everyone, approached MOFGA (he currently serves on the board of directors) with Russell Libby (the former executive director of MOFGA who passed away last December to create the orchard.

With the help of “old timers” and hundreds of apple enthusiasts, John and a MOFGA committee composed of agricultural historians, orchardists and permaculturists have been assembling the collection. The varieties date back to when most Mainers lived on farms and every farm had a small orchard of locally adapted, multi-use selections. Many of these are now on the verge of extinction. Currently over 200 young trees are grafted and waiting in the nursery to be planted. The first 120 of these will be planted in April 2014.

The orchard will be terraced into the remediated gravel pit. It will be managed using innovative, organic orcharding practices with fruit trees being surrounded by thousands of companion plants: plants that attract pollinators and beneficial insects, improve the soil and deter disease.

The orchard will be a learning laboratory with MOFGA offering workshops and classes in the orchard year round. Fruit and grafting wood, will be made available to the public as will historical and cultural information on each variety.

Close to $50,000 has been raised for the project thus far, but thousands more dollars are needed to ensure the project’s success. For information on donating email apples@mofga.org.

Apple tree at Super Chilly Farm

Apple Notes with John Bunker
What do you most enjoy about apple season?

Climbing around in apple trees.

How many hours a day do you work and how many days a week this time of year? Take us through your typical workday.

14 hours a day, 7 days a week. Explore, visit old acquaintances, meet new people, explore, identify fruit, give talks, sleep and start over.

How did you come upon naming the farm?

Many years ago we all decided to name our farms at Fedco. Someone told me I had to come up with a name in about three hours. The name popped into my head. It was named after the Chile Pepper, "Super Chilly"

Would you share a special story relating to your apple identification table at the Common Ground Fair?

A fellow came up to the table and said, "My daughter is going to come live on your farm and be your apprentice." I'd never met or heard of him or his daughter. A few months later, she moved in and became one of our best apprentices ever. When she heard what her father had said to me, she was mortified.

Is anyone else doing apple identification in Maine? Are you teaching people to identify apples?

I hope that lots of people are trying to identify the apples. On September 28, I'm leading an all-day workshop in apple identification (go here for details). At some point, I plan to teach a weeklong course in Apple ID.

I found it fascinating (referencing material in John’s book Not Far From the Tree) that it is likely Scandinavian fishermen were the first people to bring apples to Maine. Why would they have taken the time to plant seedling orchards? Also, are there any remnants near Old Orchard Beach (in John's book he notes OOB may have been the site of the oldest mainland orchard in North America)?

May have been Portuguese fishermen. They were fishing off the Maine coast. Every time you eat an apple, there is the potential for several new apples to be planted. (Think seeds!)

Have not done sufficient exploration in Old Orchard Beach area. But I do love my light blue T-shirt: "Old Orchard Beach"

While learning about apples, what most surprised or fascinated you?

Apples that don't taste good can make the most delicious pies.

Apple picking in Cumberland County 2011

Pick Your Own
According to University of Maine Cooperative Extension Tree Fruit Specialist Dr. Renae Moran, this year’s apple crop is larger than last year’s since weather during bloom was favorable for pollination. “Orchards in northern Maine have a light crop because of poor pollination weather, but they report that there are plenty of apples for pick your own,” said Moran. “The abundant rainfall has been favorable for good fruit size. Ripening appears to be nearly normal, but summer apples were early this year.” Apple picking will be at peak in the next several weeks now that McIntosh and Honeycrisp are ready. In northern Maine, they usually ripen a week later.

Following is a list of places where you can pick your own apples. Please call ahead, especially where noted, to verify they are open that day. *This list is current as of September 10th, 2013.

Cumberland County
Douglas Hill Orchard – 42 Orchard Road in Sebago. Phone: 207-787-2745.

Five Fields Farm – 720 South Bridgton Road (Rt. 107) in Bridgton. Phone 207-647-2425.

Hansel’s Orchard – Rte 9 in North Yarmouth. Phone 207-829-6136.

Meadow Brook Farm – Rte 85 in Raymond. Phone 207-627-7009.

Orchard Hill Farm – 36 Orchard Road in Cumberland. Phone 207-829-3581.

Randall Orchards – Randall Road in Standish. Phone 207-642-3500.

Thompson’s Orchard – 276 Gloucester Hill Road in New Gloucester. Phone 207-926-4738.

York County
Brackett’s Orchards – 224 Sokokis Avenue Rt. 11 in Limington. Phone 207-637-2377. (Call before you go, picking will probably begin the last week of September.)

Lakeview Orchard – 301 Brock Road in Alfred. Phone 207-729-5667.

McDougal Orchards – Hanson’s Ridge Road in Springvale. Phone 207-324-5054. (This location was not verified orally. *According to their website they are having PYO.)

Raven Hill Orchard – 255 Ossipee Hill Road in East Waterboro. Phone 207-247-4455. (This location was not verified orally. *According to their website they are having PYO.)

Snell Family Farm – 1000 River Road in Buxton. Phone 207-929-5318.

Androscoggin County
Apple Ridge Farms – Perkins Ridge Road in Auburn. Phone 207-777-1696.

Benoit Orchard – Ferry and Cotton Road in Lewiston. Phone 207-786-4261.

Boothby’s Orchard – 366 Boothby Road in Livermore. Phone 207-754-3500.

Roberts’ Orchard – Poland Corner Road in Poland. Phone 207-998-4183.

Stukas Farms – Ferry Road in Lewiston. Phone 207-786-2639.

Kennebec County
Lakeside Orchards – Readfield Road (Rte 17), 1 mile from Manchester Center in Manchester. Phone 207-622-2479. (Wagon rides on weekends only.)

Knox County
Hope Orchards – 434 Camden Road in Hope. Phone 207-763-2824. (Fresh cider made on premises. For more information go here.)

Lincoln County
Bailey’s Orchard – North Hunts Meadow Road, 2 miles off Rte 17 in Whitefield. Phone 207-549-7680.

Waldo County
Sewall Orchard – Masalin Road in Lincolnville. Phone 207-763-3956. (PYO begins September 25, cider for sale, for more details go here.)

 

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About the Author

Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog, deliciousmusings.com.

When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse.

In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more.

Sharon can be contacted at kitchens.sharon@gmail.com or on Twitter @deliciousmusing.

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