The Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project has embarked on a $1.3 million capital fundraising campaign to purchase an operations base and equipment needed for a large-scale revival of the local apple orchard economy.
In the past several years, MORP founders Jude and Addie Schuenemeyer have teamed up with apple orchard owners and cideries to slowly bring back the orchard economy that thrived in Southwest Colorado more than 100 years ago.
But to fully realize the region’s potential, the project needs additional infrastructure and space, said Jude Schuenemeyer.
“We have been taking it step by step. Now it’s time to make a bigger jump,” he said.
A central location with apple storage, equipment and a mobile industrial juicer would be available for local growers. A propagation lab, classrooms, processing space, storage, housing for workers and shared expertise would help local orchards maximize their efforts.
“This location will be a tool to help grow the private orchard sector in perpetuity,” Schuenemeyer said.
MORP has identified a historically significant orchard property between Cortez and Dolores for the project.
Phase I of the capital campaign is to purchase the 30-acre property, listed at $612,000. The Nature Conservancy awarded MORP a $297,000 grant for the purchase.
Other nonprofits also are contributing. The Gates Foundation has kicked in $45,000; the Kenney Brothers Foundation, $15,000; El Pomar Foundation, $10,000; and the Telluride Foundation, $10,000. Individuals have donated a total of $10,000 since the fundraising campaign became public in July.
MORP hopes to raise $245,000 by the end of the year to close on the property. The property includes a historic apple orchard that will be preserved, numerous outbuildings, irrigation, a central house for base operations and room for an education center.
Phase II of the campaign is to raise $690,000 by 2020 to purchase infrastructure to support orchards. That would include a $300,000 mobile juicer that would be transported to orchards around the region for large apple pressing operations.
MORP has identified more than 100 historic apple varieties, hosting classes, and mapping orchards throughout Montezuma, Dolores and La Plata counties.
Old orchards with rare and historic varieties are now producing bumper crops that can go to market, rather than rot on the ground.
Using grafting techniques, the Schuenemeyers have been perpetuating rare and heritage apple strains and distributing the young trees to be planted in new orchards.
Apple-press projects in 2016 and 2017 attracted orchards from across the county, showing there was significant supply of apples in the region. Local and Front Range cideries bought up the juice and indicated they wanted more.
Based on its on-the-ground research, MORP conservatively estimates there are at least 10,000 apple trees within Montezuma, Dolores and La Plata counties, representing a potential yield of 50,000 bushels per year. Depending on price, the market value could reach $1 million per year.
“There is great demand for Montezuma County apples, and the goal is to get the juice in grocery stores and in cideries across Colorado and elsewhere,” Schuenemeyer said. “There is a huge potential just sitting there now, but it needs a push to really get going.”
For more information and to donate, visit the MORP website.