Ten apple varieties that were thought to be extinct have been recovered thanks to a non-profit group of apple hunters.
It all started with a simple task from a neighbor
Founder of the Lost Apple Project, David Benscoter, told CNN that it all started when he helped a disabled neighbor with some chores.
“She lives on her family’s property, and they have lived here since the 1900s. She asked if I could pick some apples for her,” Benscoter said.
“I asked her what kind of apples they were… and started to look up what apples were popular around here back then. Supposedly the world’s largest orchard at one time was 11 miles from where I lived.”
He ended up buying a book on finding extinct apples. A short time later, he found an old newspaper with the county fair results and compared the list of apples entered in the fair to the list of extinct apples from the book. To his surprise, he found some of the extinct apples matched the list from his county. He fell in love with the history and decided to give it a try.
Benscoter then recruited his friend EJ Brandt when he realized that there wasn’t a single apple hunter on the West Coast. They decided to take up the mission for themselves.
“I thought it was important enough that I should do something about it,” Benscoter said.
They founded the Lost Apple Project and have been hunting for apples for about seven years in Washington and Idaho.
This season was the largest haul in seven years
They rely on tips to rediscover apples that were planted in the US between the 1800s and early 1900s. Most of the apples are found on old homesteads and are collected from October until the beginning of November.
Overall, they have recovered 23 varieties of extinct apples, and the recent discovery of 10 apples is the most they have ever had in a single season.
After the apples are recovered, they’re sent to apple experts Joanie Cooper and Shaun Shepherd of the Temperate Orchard Conservancy for identification. When a sample comes back as a lost apple, Benscoter and Brandt wait until winter when the trees are dormant to get a graft from the tree in order to restore the species.
The conservatory then uses the graft to preserve the apple variety.
“Every apple variety that we discover goes there… so any varieties that we discover will never be lost again,” Benscoter said.
The Lost Apple Project’s hope is to preserve the history and the identity of the apples for others.