Who would have guessed that in a year when the area hit the jackpot in terms of fruit tree production, we couldn’t celebrate it like we have in the past?
2020 has been defined by the “pivot.” Schools close? Time to pivot. Restaurants shut down? Time to pivot. Flights canceled so you decide to drive 12 hours with your children? Yes, time to pivot.
The Apple Days Festival, a mainstay of the fall celebration calendar, has skipped only one autumnal gathering, and that was because there wasn’t an apple to be found on a tree (spring freeze). So in a year where: tree branches are breaking because of the weight of the fruit (use two-by-four lumber to brace them); birds are eating as many red apples as fast as their little beaks will let them (tie flash tape to the tree branches in early September); and our garages are filled with the sweet smell of ripening fruit (visit extension.colostate.edu for more information about how to preserve the fall harvest), it’s tough to not celebrate something as simple, and tasty, as the apple.
However, don’t think those apples have to go unharvested. For example, Colorado State University Extension, in cooperation with the Southwest Colorado Research Center outside Yellow Jacket, manages a more than 500-tree orchard. Typically, a u-pick happens every fall where community members can come in and pick to their heart’s content. But this year was different – we can’t have a gathering that large, so instead, the apples were picked and boxed and sold as a “pick-up and go” event.
Simple, unless you were the one doing all the picking. Unfortunately, about 15,000 pounds of apples remained on the trees. And while volunteers and Extension personnel probably won’t get every fruit picked, we were able to harvest about 10,000 more pounds that will be redistributed to food relief agencies throughout Southwest Colorado and northern New Mexico.
What about the rest of those apples scattered throughout the area, you ask? Well, now it’s your time to go grab them! Visit the Good Food Collective’s tree dating service at www.fruitglean.org, where you will find an ever-growing list of trees that are currently laden with fruit and not yet picked. Or if you have a tree that needs to be harvested, you can list your tree for free. Less fruit equals less opportunity for bears to visit your yard, a healthier tree and more nutritious food in more bellies. It’s a win-win-win.
On the Good Food Collective webpage you can also RSVP for a weekly, COVID-adjusted, gleaning event. An energized group of gleaners identify a tree that needs to be picked, tree owners keep what they want and whatever is left could go to food banks, cideries or even livestock (rotting, bruised fruit equals happy pigs, cows and horses!).
Lastly, one of the best parts of Apple Days was the pressing in the park. The community, and all their muscles, would turn 4,000 pounds of fruit into 200 gallons of juice. Alas, that won’t happen this year either. However, in a quick pivot, we still plan on pressing fruit and selling the end-product at the Durango Farmers Market on Saturday, Oct. 10. I’d highly suggest pre-ordering cider (again, on the Collective’s webpage) to pick up at their booth at the market. Easy as (apple) pie!
Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at email@example.com or 382-6464.Darrin Parmenter