Posted on Wed, July 15, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
1 Comments | Categories: Biodiversity, Farms and Farming,
by Slow Food USA Biodiversity Intern Regina Fitzsimmons
“Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.”
- Mark Twain
This September, kitchens in Portland, Maine and the surrounding towns will smell of warm apple sauce and sweet chutneys. John Bunkers CSA, christened Out on a Limb will officially begin September 2nd and continue until November 11th. John grows many historic apple varieties called old-timey or heirloom apples, as well as unusual, new varieties. Neighbors have frequently asked John if they could get their hands on some to taste-test them in sauces and pies.
In response to consumer demand, John compiled a list of orchards around New England that grow heirloom apples. But he soon realized that a list, while extremely valuable, wasnt practical for families seeking rare apples from a next-door source; many of these orchards are in the countryside, making it difficult for people to frequently visit.
After talking to friends in Portland, ME, John started thinking seriously about starting a CSA. Ive been on the lookout for ideas for how to make the more unusual varieties more accessible to a wider range of people, he said. When he talked to his chef friends, he thought of an additional bonus: if chefs subscribed and started using these rare varieties in their cooking and listed the apples on their menus, it would get peoplethe eaters”seeing and talking about them. People would learn what apples are great in pies, or tarts and sauces. In effect, people would become more educated about apple history, uses and varieties.
The Out on a Limb CSA apples will come from Johns farm and other orchards around central Maine. It wont be providing household varieties like Portlands, Honeycrisps and Galas. In total, each CSA member will end up tasting between 30-50 varieties of old-timey applesall varieties that most folks have never heard of. In each batch there will be five or six varieties, a mix of dessert apples (apples meant to be eaten fresh) and culinary apples and information about the history of each variety and what its good for.
This CSA doesnt solely benefit the consumer, but also the grower. John has friends at nearby orchards growing these rare varieties, and while they are excellent growers, not all are entrepreneurs. Some have a tendency to let fruit go to the ground and rot, including some unusual stuff”the old-timey apples. So, by starting up the CSA, John feels hes providing a service for both producers and consumers.
John isnt entirely certain how this first year will fare, but hes optimistic. When asked how he finds endangered apple varieties near his home, he thoughtfully responded, Slowly, one at a time. Its a multi-year, multi-decade project. Start where you are, so to speak, and then trudge along and follow leads. You have file folders with notes. Visit people. Over time, it builds. Every year we have new discoveries and new varieties. One thing leads to another, word of mouth, people contact you. Its endless and boundless and you never know when someones going to call. And you go down dozens of dead ends. But you cant have the discovery without the many dead ends. You cant expect to go out and every time find something. Never a wasted moment, just simply a part of the process. Its a treasure hunt.
While heirloom apple CSAs are rare, John Bunker isnt the only person endeavoring to promote endangered varieties through Community Supported Agriculture.
Bill Morez of Moretz Mountain Orchard sells a little over 100 apple varietiessome antique that date back to the 1500s, some modern; a really good mix, he said. Ike and Lisa Kerschner of North Star Orchard offer two separate CSAs for both fruits and vegetables. Lisa shared that they grow a lot of different apples, and the plums are also a specialty (35 varieties).
If youre excited about joining a fruit CSA, you may also be interested in leasing an actual fruit tree! Read how Jenny Trotter, self-proclaimed New York city-girl, picked 150 pounds of Empire apples in upstate New York, fueling sweet culinary creations, from cider pressing to whipping up batches of spicy chutney (recipe included).
Black Oxford apple, originated in Oxford County Maine in the 18th century, Photo by John Bunker
Photo of John Bunker by Mark Dohm