If you had been alive in 1904, you would be 112 today. Unlikely. However, many Montezuma residents had parents, grandparents, or extended family who would have been alive back then and who might have recalled when this valley participated in the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Perhaps they made the journey and saw for themselves some of the curiosities and wonders of the modern world:
The world’s largest cedar bucket (9 feet diameter)A glass hatchet collectionA Pyreliophorus – a device which used a series of reflecting parabolic mirrors that could concentrate sunlight and create temperatures of 3500 degrees (Celsius!), hot enough to melt metals and rocksThe stuffed effigy of Owney the dog, the first national mascot of the Railway Post Office and the U.S. Postal Service. (In 2011 the U.S. Postal Service issued a Forever stamp honoring Owney.)An enormous pipe organ, one of the largest in the worldA gigantic floral clock, 100’ in diameter, festooned with over 13,000 flowering plants and 1000 lights. It was the world’s largest clock at the time, floral or otherwise.Food novelties like puffed rice cereal, French mustard, Dr. Pepper, cotton candy, hot dogs, and arguably the first waffle ice cream cone.And naturally there were plenty of pomologists – fruit-growing specialists – who congregated under the largest structure at the fair: the Horticulture Tent, part of the 23-acre agricultural exhibit displaying some of the nation’s most prized fruit. In addition to winning numerous silver and bronze medals, Montezuma County won three out of the four Gold Medal awards awarded to the state of Colorado for mixed plates of peaches and apples.
Two years later at the State Fair, Montezuma County fruits took an impressive 101 out of 104 ribbons, and 97 of them were first-place winners.
Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project
Where once there were hundreds of varieties growing in Colorado, now there are less than 20, according to Jude Schuenemeyer. Fortunately, historic varieties of Colorado apples – considered endangered or nearly extinct – are being preserved in remnant orchards throughout Montezuma Valley. MORP is mapping these living repositories of rare genetics – 80–120 years old – identifying varieties, collecting leaf tissue and attempting to match them with samples from the nation’s apple repository in Geneva, New York. Rare varieties such as Early Strawberry, Colorado Orange, Red Winter Pearamain, Baltimore, Cedar Hill Black, Utter’s Red, Maiden Blush, Red Sheriff are among the many varieties that MORP is helping to restore.
MORP tracks the history of local fruit and its growers. In the 1890s, Jasper Hall – related to Walter Hall and the McElmo ranching family, the Zwickers – brought the Thunderbolt, a winter apple, from the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee, to Montezuma County. Today, one Thunderbolt tree remains in the valley.
There are as many as 200 historic orchard sites sprinkled throughout the county, and MORP is searching records to regain lost information about growers and their farming practices and techniques. Recording oral histories from old-time farmers is another way in which MORP is preserving valuable knowledge.
The Schuenemeyers would like to see smaller family-owned orchards dominate the local landscape. Rather than production orchards, they envision orchards as part of the family farm. Low-density orchards can be planted on minimal acreage, 70-200 trees per acre, instead of the typical production density of 500-1000 trees per acre. Scaling back makes it possible for farmers or families to maintain it themselves.
Looking ahead, the Schuenemeyers foresee a revitalized orchard culture that could include community orchards, a statewide fruit distribution program, U-pick orchards for locals, developing a cider economy, ongoing grafting and pruning workshops in tandem with school education programs, youth mentoring and an annual apple harvest festival that celebrates the rich delicious history of Montezuma Valley.
For more information on what MORP is doing, to watch a short video, or to becoming a supporting member, go to their website, email them at [email protected], contact them on Facebook or call 565-3099.
School To Farm (MSTFP)
Similarly, Schuenemeyer is working with School to Farm to show Americorp volunteers how to teach grafting so that they can eventually spread that knowledge and skill to other communities. “We want an entire generations understanding orchards and orchard culture, including propagation and growing trees,” says Schuenemeyer, “and we want the permanent staff (at the Cortez schools) to know how to do this.”
In 1910, there were more than 15,000 varieties of apples grown in the United States. According to food activist Jo Robinson, that number has been whittled down to 500, 3 percent of what it was in 1910. Her research reveals that 9 out every 10 apples eaten in America today come from a dozen varieties. Organizations like MORP and MSTFP hope to reverse the trend by reintroducing genetic diversity back into small heritage orchards and into the hands of local growers.
Food will always have its fads, like those at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. But apples are here to stay – at least in Montezuma County.