Aiming to renew the Roaring Fork fruit-tree population
The Aspen Times
As farmers in the mid-Roaring Fork Valley in the 19th century, Italian settlers are responsible for many of the apple, pear, apricot, plum and cherry trees that can be found there today.
The Heritage Fruit Tree Project, led by Michael Thompson and Jerome Osentowski, aims to renew that fruit-tree population and feed it into Colorado’s food economy. With an orchard in Basalt, the team grafts trees that do well at high elevation, and clients throughout the valley can get in on the action.
“If anyone wants a couple fruit trees in their yard, we can show them the variety of trees that have been grafted from Heritage trees and have survived the test of time,” said Jimmy Dula, fundraising manager for the project. “They can pick out what varieties they want, and we can go plant those for them.”
To help push the project along, the team is promoting the project on Kickstarter, with a fundraising goal of $40,000. With more than 1,000 fruit trees estimated in the valley, project leaders have cataloged about 250 so far. The plan is to plant more next spring and build the irrigation to support them.
Sometimes donors will contribute land instead of money so the team will have greater area for cultivation. In some cases, the team will collect the fruit, sell most of it into the local economy and leave the landowner with a fraction of the crop. Other landowners will pay the cost of planting and pruning and keep the entire crop for their own purposes. Depending on the landowner’s needs, different agreements can be worked out with the team.
Since 2009, Thompson has documented hundreds of trees in the valley while also helping to prune them. Osentowski has developed a permaculture demonstration site for the past 30 years in Basalt. Together they believe growing and tracking fruit resources will allow Colorado to become a major agricultural producer and increase food security for the whole state.
Most abundant in the valley are apple trees. And they’re not the typical Red Delicious or Golden Delicious apples you find at the grocery store. These are underground apples that have grown scarce over the years. Dula said there is potential to start orchards at Cozy Point Ranch and the Glassier property.
“We’d like to grow all these trees to conserve these hipster apples,” Dula said. “They’re the underground apples that we don’t want to lose. There could be one tree hiding in someone’s yard or some super-awesome apple that does really well in this valley, and so we need to catalog that resource and then propagate it.”
One issue the team is asked about frequently: How do you keep the fruit trees from the bears? For one, the trees are pruned to support the weight of a bear, so even if a bear finds the crop, it won’t destroy the tree.
“Bears are something we have to share the environment with,” Dula said. “If a bear gets your crop that year, then it gets your crop that year.”
He added that hopefully enough trees can be grown where it won’t matter if the bears find a few here and there.
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