A 36-acre property near Cortez in southwestern Colorado soon will be transformed into a sustainable community apple “orchard hub.” With help from The Nature Conservancy, the Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project was able to purchase the land . Jude Schuenemeyer, who co-directs the project, said they’ll use beneficial insects instead of pesticides to protect the apple trees, and underneath, there will be a range of native wildflowers to create a safe space for pollinators to refuel.
“You start to create an ecosystem there,” he said, “and, within that ecosystem, it’s a place where all the different species of bees can be in there without getting sprayed out and killed.”
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For Jude and Addie Schuenemeyer, growing apples preserves a rich cultural history in Colorado. And, growing apples might just be a viable solution to supporting their local economy while sustainably managing water in the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin.
The Colorado River is often called America’s hardest-working river. Demands for water exceed supply, causing the river to dry up before it reaches the sea. Water from the river irrigates more than five million acres of agricultural land and provides drinking water for 40 million people across seven states and two countries. And the lack of water will only get worse as climate change increases drought and water scarcity in the West.
The scale and consequences of water and the Colorado can seem insurmountable. But, Jude and Addie are hoping their pilot project will provide a solution and spread hope for the river. Continue reading at The Nature Conservancy…
Heritage apple trees will produce 700 bushels annually ~
The persistent blank spot on Joe Rowell Park’s east side is set to blossom into a vibrant apple orchard producing heritage varieties.
This fall the Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project planted 70 trees in the Dolores park as part of a partnership with the town. Native grasses will be planted as cover for the orchard floor.
“It is here for the community to cherish, a beautiful asset that will be enjoyed by generations,” said MORP co-director Jude Schuenemeyer. “We purposely planted the rarer varieties. It will be a real place of activity where people can learn and be a part of something.” read full story in The Journal
The Colorado Orange apple was thought to be extinct until now
Though Washington state’s apple growers recently made headlines with the introduction of the crunchy new Cosmic Crisp variety, Colorado has a long history as an apple growing state. Now that history has resurfaced with the discovery of the rare Colorado Orange apple, thought to be possibly extinct.
The discovery comes from Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project (MORP), an organization that “works to preserve Colorado’s fruit- growing heritage and restore an orchard culture and economy to the southwestern region.” Co-founders Jude and Addie Schuenemeyer started the organization to preserve the apple-growing history of Montezuma county, the Southwestern corner of the state that borders Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico.
According to MORP, Colorado was a prolific apple producing state starting in the 1860s, winning three gold medals for its fruit at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. Since then the many grown in the state have fallen out of favor in the marketplace; luckily many of those orchards still exist, with 100-year-old trees still producing fruit. Read more in Sunset.com
The historic Gold Medal Orchard, located in McElmo Canyon where it joins Trail Canyon, represents one of hundreds of remnant historic orchards located in Montezuma County and across Colorado. First planted in 1890 by James Giles, the orchard soon earned its name by winning a gold medal for the quality of its apples and peaches at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. Remaining on-site are several old apple, pear, and quince trees, portions of the historic orchard fence; and under the grand cottonwoods are two historic homes with sheds and a privy.
When you visit, close your eyes and imagine what you would have seen while standing here at the turn of the 20th century. Fruit trees spread across the canyon floor, pink, white, and red blossoms snowing down in the spring, limbs heavy with crops throughout the summer and fall. Apples, peaches, apricots, pears, cherries, and plums ripening in the warm sun and cool evenings in the perfect location to grow beautiful and flavorful fruit.
Time passed, the trees grew into their grandeur, and then slowly faded into the landscape. Over 100 years later, only a few historic trees remain, hardy remnants of the orchard’s former glory. Heritage fruit varieties were lost, and the story of the Gold Medal Orchard and its prize-winning fruits was nearly forgotten.
Today, the story of the Gold Medal Orchard is remembered by the Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project (MORP) through its work to preserve Colorado’s fruit-growing heritage. In 2015, the orchard was listed as one of Colorado’s Most Endangered Places by Colorado Preservation, Inc. (CPI). In 2019, the project was awarded the EPP Progress Award by CPI at the Dana Crawford & State Honor Awards, and through cooperation with MORP and the Kenyon family, is now saved.
When you are at the orchard, open your eyes wide and take a good look at the roughly 400 fruit trees growing before you. They represent rare fruit cultivars (primarily apples) that were grafted by MORP from this and other historic Colorado orchards. Envision these young trees of old genetics reaching their prime, and then still growing another hundred years from now. Gifts of our early fruit growers passed down by MORP for future generations to taste and preserve.
For the first time since Mountain Sun Juice closed its Dolores doors 14 years ago, local apple juice shipped out of Montezuma County in October, 2016. Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project produced and sold 2,200 gallons of Montezuma Valley Heritage Blend raw apple juice to hard cider makers in Denver, Boulder and Cortez. MORP used proceeds to purchase local heirloom apples, engage Montana’s NW Mobile Juicing, lease cold storage and processing facilities, ship juice and coordinate the project. Funded in part by a recently awarded USDA Local Food Promotion Program grant, MORP undertook this project to evaluate whether mobile juicing can help fruit growers reach juice markets. With the preponderance of juice apples in our orchards, market opportunity exists not only for hard cider, but for our fresh juice as well. Wouldn’t it be great if local apple juice could again be available in our own community?
In order for Ryal Schallenberger of Montana’s Northwest Mobile Juicing to bring his mobile juice press to Montezuma County, MORP needed to guarantee we would have 800 bushels of apples to press. Knowing there was a bumper crop on the trees, and that one orchard alone could produce 800 bushels, we said sure; and when Ryal set a date in mid-October, a 12-day crash-course on juice manufacturing ensued.
MORP set a goal to pick 100 bushels a day. After our first day yielded 20 bushels, albeit with only three pickers, we got nervous. MORP put out a call to pay fruit-growers for picked and delivered apples, volunteer picking crews were organized and seven orchard owners opened their gates to mostly complete strangers. Over the course of eight days, 32 volunteers and four orchard owners picked, shook, and packed 32,000 pounds of apples. Over and over we heard old-timers recount, “on a good day, so-and-so could hand-pick 100 bushels”. We were humbled by our fruit-growing pioneers.
Picking apples was one thing. What about selling juice? How would we price juice in a market ranging from $1.50 to $9.00/gallon? Where exactly does one put 800 bushels of apples and how do they get there? Furthermore, how do we move a tote of juice weighing 2,600 pounds, and how do we get six of them to Denver? Thanks to years of getting to know old orchards, their people, and folks in the cider business, we knew who to ask. The juice sold out, and box-by-box, MORP purchased and borrowed wooden fruit crates, 20-bushel bins and milk crates. We borrowed trucks, trailers, barns, rented a loader and leased a forklift, tractor, warehouse and cold storage from Russell Vineyards to finish the job. Well, almost. There was still that question of getting 10,400 pounds of juice to Denver, after numerous unsuccessful attempts at sourcing a refrigerated truck. But as luck would have it, Lang Livestock had just purchased a truck from our friends at Geisinger Feed. They shipped the juice on an open-air flatbed at night to keep it cool. How happy we were envisioning a 75’ Kenworth semi delivering Montezuma Valley Heritage Blend apple juice in downtown Denver early the next morning. Next time, we envision the truck being full.
MORP is grateful for everyone’s generosity and confidence, and the true community effort it took to accomplish this project. Let us do it again!
Completed Needs Assessment to study feasibility of MORP purchasing a mobile press for use in our heritage orchards: