Hundreds of apple varieties thrived in orchards across North Georgia a century ago, before an evolving apple industry swept them off shelves and tables, never to return. But with the help of a dedicated group of University of Georgia researchers, Extension agents and volunteer enthusiasts, Georgia’s lost apple varieties are making a comeback. The newly planted Heritage Apple Orchard, located at UGA’s Georgia Mountain Research & Education Center in Blairsville, is meant to reclaim many of those bygone cultivars and demonstrate why Georgia once was at the center of the U.S. apple industry:
“One very basic benefit is simply to reconnect Georgians with the history, and the agricultural history, of their state,” said Stephen Mihm, associate professor of history in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. “But there’s another, very important virtue to this work, which is that the apple cultivars that thrive in Georgia are not typical in their tolerance for heat and humidity. There’s growing interest in tapping into those traits genetically, and that’s not only restricted to apples.”
Mihm helped launch the Heritage Orchard project out of personal interest. He and his wife purchased an old farmhouse near Athens that came with a restrictive covenant requiring that the acreage be used, at least in part, for agricultural production. A native of Connecticut with fond childhood memories of apple orchards and cider mills, Mihm decided to plant a few lesser-known varieties and became interested in learning more about them.
Meanwhile Joshua Fuder, the UGA Cooperative Extension agent for Cherokee County, had also purchased a home with several heirloom apple trees planted in the yard. Not knowing much about apples and feeling both a professional and personal obligation to learn more, he found his way to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Plant Genetic Resources Unit, based in Geneva, New York.
Read MORE about this terrific story of state service and outreach led in part by a history department faculty member. A true collaborative effort, Heritage Orchard is an inspiring slice of today building on Georgia's past to create and expand on sustainable agricultural practices.
Image: Cooperative Extension agents (left to right) Ashley Hoppers, Josh Fuder and Clark MacAllister plant one of the Heritage Orchard’s trees. (Photo by Mike Terrazas)