Expanding Market for Appalachian-grown Heirloom Apples

2010 has been declared the Year of the Heirloom Apple by the Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT) alliance. An initiative of Slow Food USA, RAFT is a coalition of food, farming, environmental and culinary advocates who have joined together to identify, restore and celebrate America’s diverse food traditions.

Describing the decline in variety of apples available in the United States, RAFT co-founder Dr. Gary Paul Nabhan says on the Slow Food USA website, “Red Delicious comprises 41 percent of the entire American apple crop, and eleven varieties produce 90 percent of all apples sold in chain grocery stores. Much of the apple juice, puree and sauce consumed in the United States is now produced in other countries.”

But, he continues, “Despite the economic downturn, heirloom and antique apple varieties are being successfully marketed at many farmers markets and Community-Supported Agriculture projects in the U.S. Future market prospects for heirloom apples look good, both among chefs and cider makers.” 

RAFT is working to compile the first national strategy for saving and restoring heirloom apple varieties. Over the next several years, RAFT will focus on the regions with the highest surviving apple diversity, including Appalachia. According to the Finger Lakes Permaculture Network, RAFT is launching the initiative in Appalachia with events in North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

As part of the initiative, RAFT recently released the Forgotten Fruits Manifesto and Manual– Apples, a publication which details the history, decline, nursery practices and local restoration efforts to bring back the most endangered heirloom. Click here to download the publication.

From the manual:
The economic prospects for heirloom apples are, in many ways, better than they have been in over a century. While certain varieties well-suited to fresh eating or baking have begun to make a comeback, the growing appreciation for hard cider and apple wines and spirits is making room in the U.S. market for distinctive, tannin-rich, bittersweet and bittersharp apples for the first time in decades…Interest in organic, artisanal, hand-crafted and place-based heritage foods has never been higher. Sales of organic fruits…have been growing by an estimated 12 percent a year!