While pandemic restrictions have been lifted, and the area is inching toward normal, the University of Idaho’s Sandpoint Organic Agriculture Center has announced it will host the Heritage Orchard Conference on-line again this year.  School officials say under the virtual format, the conference grew into an international affair for apple growers and researchers, drawing 20 times the number of participants and some of the industry’s top experts to serve as speakers.


“It seems like there are a lot of different regional groups that focus on heritage apples. We wanted to bring those groups together,” said Kyle Nagy, the center’s superintendent and orchard operations manager.



The conference started in 2019 as a one-day event drawing about 75 people from throughout the Pacific Northwest to Sandpoint. During the past two years, as a webinar series, it’s had more than 1,500 participants from 27 countries. 


The webinars will once again take place on the 3rd Wednesday of each month from October through April at 10 a.m. Pacific.  The first webinar, scheduled for October 19th, will feature John Bunker, who is with the Maine Heritage Orchard and authored the book “Apples and the Art of Detection.”


"He’s kind of a heritage apple legend,” Nagy said. “He’s found some of these lost apple varieties and he’s one of the few people who I know of who is good at identifying apples based on physical characteristics. That’s definitely a dying art. Most of the identification today is done with genetic analysis.”


Advance registration is required, but there is no charge to participate.  Visit Sandpoint Organic Agriculture Center's Website to learn more or to register.


The Sandpoint facility is the only USDA Certified Organic program operated by U of I’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. It includes a fenced eight-acre orchard, with a few half-acre plots reserved for other organic research, including projects evaluating soil health in organic production systems and pest control in huckleberries.


About 95% of the apple trees at the orchard are heritage varieties – producing apples that can’t be found at a store and, in fact, most people have never heard of. The majority of the varieties date back to the 1700s and 1800s. Most of the varieties were selected for cider production, drying or for use as a sweetener. The oldest variety, Summer Rambo, is a French apple originating in 1535.


For those who wish to tour the center in person and taste fruit found in few other places, Nagy has also scheduled a few in-person events. The center will host an apple tasting that will be free for the public to attend on the afternoon of October 22nd.  The center had about 250 people attend its first apple tasting event in 2019.  Participants tasted 35 apple varieties and scored them for flavor and texture.  Based on the results Nagy released a list of the top 10 apples.  The apple tasting was suspended due to COVID-19 and will be making its return this harvest season.


Harvest has been delayed by a couple of weeks this season due to a cool spring, and Nagy and his staff are eager to get the crop in before the arrival of the first hard frost.


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