Heirloom fruit expert to speak at Heritage Center

Heirloom apple varieties are shown. Enlargephoto

Courtesy Photo

Heirloom apple varieties are shown.

Jude Schuenemeyer will give a presentation on the preservation of Montezuma County’s fruit-growing heritage at the Anasazi Heritage Center on Sunday, July 29, at 1 p.m. His appearance is part of the 2012 Four Corners Lecture Series. Admission to the museum is free on lecture days.

Orchards once thrived where meadows now fill the fields around Dolores, Mancos, and McElmo Canyon. Montezuma County was a haven for apples, pears, peaches, cherries, and apricots, including some now-rare varieties. Though reduced in number, local orchards have not entirely disappeared, and here and there a few trees of the old varieties have survived into the twenty-first century. Jude Schuenemeyer’s mission is to save that heritage.

Before the industrialization of agriculture, many more varieties of fruits were grown commercially. But in order to maximize productivity, only a few varieties of each are grown today in monocultural plots. Trees and fruit are often selected for consistency, the ability to withstand mechanical picking and cross-country shipping, and tolerance to drought, frost, and pesticides. As a result, most fruit available from modern supermarkets is uniformly large, brightly colored, and relatively tasteless compared to what our grandparents ate.

The status of apples illustrates an overall decline in fruit diversity: In the United States, only a fourth as many apple trees are cultivated as a century ago, and roughly nine out of ten historically grown varieties are at risk of disappearing from the table.

Jude and his wife Addie own Let It Grow Nursery and Garden Market in Cortez, and are co-founders of the Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project (MORP) which aims to restore an orchard economy to the Four Corners. To preserve this rich living history, the Schuenemeyers have found and propagated numerous rare and historic trees from forgotten orchards across the area.

Schuenemeyer has been featured in the magazines Western Fruit Grower and Farm Show, and in articles circulated by the Associated Press. He regularly teaches classes on grafting, pruning, and orchard assessment. Jude, Addie, and their three daughters live in an orchard in McElmo Canyon along with chickens, sheep, cats, dogs, and a horse.

The Bureau of Land Management Anasazi Heritage Center is the headquarters for Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. It includes museum galleries, a theater, and a hiking trail. The facility is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. throughout the summer season. For more information, contact the museum at 882-5600 or see its website at www.co.blm.gov/ahc.