The Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project held its annual heritage tree sale and fundraiser on June 15.
Locals and heritage apple enthusiasts turned out to the MORP nursery along McElmo Canyon on a toasty Saturday, selecting from a wide range of varieties, from sweet and nutty strains to more acidic ones.
“We’re big fans of heritage apples,” said Sue Pierce, a MORP member who attended the sale to buy additional plants for her gardens in Dove Creek.
The yearly event is a fundraiser for MORP, a nonprofit founded by Addie and Jude Schuenemeyer to help preserve heritage apple varieties and revive an apple economy in Southwest Colorado.
According to Jude Schuenemeyer, the 1800s was a “golden age of pomology” – the science of growing fruit.
In Montezuma County, where the altitude and climate are particularly conducive for apple-growing, the area became renown for its fruit and varieties. But industrialization and an increasing reliance on grocery stores – with their single-variety red apples – caused the working orchards to fall into disuse.
However, some of the historic varieties are still standing in the area, with apples having gone to rot for decades. And by collaborating with the Montezuma County Historical Society, the Schuenemeyers were able to gather records of ancient varieties and even receive cuttings from ancient trees, according to the nonprofit’s website.
They’ve made inroads in recent years, with local cideries and pressing projects opening up a market for Montezuma apples. But there’s still a long way to go before the area returns to its thriving heirloom apple economy, Jude Schuenemeyer said.
Their nonprofit has drawn in nearby orchard-owners looking to diversify as well.
At Saturday’s event, Dylan Schwidt and Michael White came out to find plants for their orchard south of Cortez. The plot used to have over 57 varieties of apples when Schwidt’s grandfather owned and operated the land, they said.