Rare apple SAMPLES, including nibbles of the fiery red Grenadine variety, were offered to attendees at the Heritage Harvest Festival on Oct. 24. Photo by Morgan Grana.
Rare apple samples, including nibbles of the fiery red Grenadine variety, were offered to attendees at the Heritage Harvest Festival on Oct. 24. Photo by Morgan Grana.

Think of the last apple you ate. Was it from Washington, New Zealand — or nearby in the Monterey Bay?

Dedicated to the propagation and celebration of heirloom fruit trees, the California Rare Fruit Growers (CRFG) association is a resource for those interested in growing specialty fruits, or just finding out more about their favorite kind.

On October 24, the Monterey chapter of CRFG joined forces with the Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks (FSCSP) to host the annual Heritage Harvest Festival. The event awakened the rustic Wilder Ranch complex into a thriving space featuring wagon rides with draft horses, gasoline-powered washing machines, old-time music and not to mention 72 varieties of apples to taste.

“Our goal is to get as many people as excited [as possible] about apples they have never tried,” said Ellen Baker, the director of the CRFG Monterey chapter. “And the longer-term goal is to excite people enough to start growing their own.”

The unique characteristics of the Wyken Pippen, Sam Young and Winesap apple varieties stood out to taste-testers against the basic selection of common store-bought apples like Red Delicious or Fuji. The apples featured at the event were all grown in the Monterey Bay, each one with a story and a farmer’s symbolic thumbprint on it.

Dave Shaw, a member of CRFG, a UC Santa Cruz lecturer and a graduate from the the Center for Agriculture and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) apprenticeship program, explained the allure of growing rare fruits.

“It’s fun. It’s a hobby but also productive. It engages me with sense of place,” Shaw said. “You can’t get these on the market. There are some things money can’t buy.”

The apples found in conventional supermarkets have been selected for traits favorable for mass production and long-distance transport, such as durability.

But Shaw explained that there is more to think about in planting trees than production and consumption, noting how important the integration of social spaces and ecological spaces can be.

“When I’ve seen students plant fruit trees on campus, they transform spaces into places — it’s no longer an alienating institution, it’s their turf, it’s their home,” Shaw said.

Peg Danielson of FSCSP said that Saturday’s event was also aimed at forging a connection between community members and the land on which they live.

“It gives people a reason to come out and enjoy their parks,” Danielson said. “A festival like this brings the whole community together, and a lot of people are connecting with the animals, with the cultural history and each other.”

Randy Wildera, director of Strategic Development and Partnership for FSCSP, said that the Heritage Harvest Festival has remained a community cornerstone for over 20 years as locals become more interested in reaffirming their connections to the land.

Many proponents of the revival of rare foods into common and local diets see the practice as a means of resisting the homogenization of the global food market.

Each apple has a history and comes from a specific region, perhaps first discovered hundreds of years ago. Paired through this event with the use and protection of state parks, according to event coordinators, serves a greater overall purpose than personal enjoyment — it is a reflection of certain social values as well.

“The main thing is for people to keep caring and stay involved,” said Danielson, speaking of the jeopardized maintenance of the Santa Cruz State Parks, due to state budget cuts.

Organizers of the Heritage Harvest festival say it will have succeeded if it inspires individuals to further their relationship with the state parks and rare fruits.

“We have here a collection of biodiversity that is threatened to be lost,” Shaw said. “Cultural and biological diversity are inextricably tied. Preservation of culture means preservation of biodiversity.”