Heirloom Apples

Final Report for FNC99-260

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1999: $5,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2001
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


The Heirloom Apple Conservancy heirloom orchard will be located on a high hill overlooking Grand Traverse Bay in northwest lower Michigan. The very small (5 acre) initial research orchard is flagged for installation, the rootstock will be heeled in for the first growing season just outside the vegetable garden, with grafting of several varieties of heirloom apple scheduled for spring of 2000. A number of heirloom apple trees planted an unknown number of years ago are scattered up the hill behind the farmhouse. These have been pruned for production in 1999 to give us some product before the research orchard comes into production.

The objective of the heirloom orchard project is to determine the extent of market support for organically grown, rare varieties of apple; to measure the value added (if any) by selecting heirloom apples for production; and to evaluate the potential for alternative small producer income via organic heirloom apple production.

The purpose of the 1999 NCR SARE grant funds were to:
- Tour existing heirloom apple orchards
- Research existing organizations and producers
- Plant rootstock and cover crop
- Install windbreak
- Support initial orchard purchases and services

All of these objectives were accomplished, with the exception of installing the windbreak, which was not necessary at the new location.

We met with six producers in Michigan; learning about the different varieties at the different orchards, learned grafting techniques, obtained scionwood and advice, and studied their marketing strategies. We also purchased some antique apple varieties which we resold at the local farmer’s market.

In the original grant request we stated that for the overall project, “Bringing organically produced heirloom apples to market will be the initial indicator of success, and producing a comparison of earnings per bushel of organic/heirloom vs. commercially produced varieties will accomplish the research portion of this project.” Since our research orchard is not yet producing apples, bringing our own apples to market is not possible. Using another producer’s product, however, gave us a glimpse of the potential market and allowed us to perform a basic per bushel income comparison.

We found that consumers were interested in antique varieties of apples and paid 25% more for them than the price of readily available commercial varieties sold a few stalls away at the same market.

Heirloom Apple Conservancy Orchard – Buhland Rd, Planted April 2001
Red Gravenstein – 10 in row 1 from North (17’ spacing, buried graft)
Wolf River – 4 on S end of row 1; 6 in row 2 S end. (17’ spacing)
Snow – 9 on N end of row 2; 1 on N end of row 3. (14.5’ spacing)
Grimes Golden – 10 in row 3 (17’ spacing)
Rhode Island Greening 0 3 on S end of row 3; 7 on S end of row 4
Stayman’s Winesap – 7 on N end of row 4; 3 on N end of row 5 (17’)
Newton Pippen – 8 on row 5 (17’ buried)
Esopus Spitzenburg – 3 on S end of row 5; 7 on S end of row 6 (15’)
Golden Russet – 8 on N end of row 6; 2 on N end of row 7 (17’ buried)
Baldwin – 10 trees in middle of row 7 (15’)
Cox Orange Pippin – 3 on S end of row 7, 7 on S end of row 8 (buried)

One part of our outreach to consumers was providing information about the antique varieties of apple we were selling. By allowing customers to sample slices of the different varieties and vote for their favorite, we were able to engage the consumer, expose them to unusual varieties, pique their interest, and sell them products at a premium. It also gave us a small database of consumers, since we asked for mailing addresses as part of the ‘vote.’ Gold Nugget was the favorite variety of the six we had available.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.