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TEDxDirigo and Apples

November 5, 2013

This past Sunday, I had the honor to attend Maine’s TED conference, TEDxDirigo. In case you do not know, TED is a movement started in California to bring together some of culture’s thought leaders and innovators together in one room to share their ideas. The talks have exploded and now go viral via the internet. Thankfully, the TED brand can be used on the local level so a local non-profit, The Treehouse Institute, organizes one for our state. Dirigo is the state motto for Maine, which simply means – “I lead.” This year’s conference was held in Brunswick, Maine inside of a gorgeous former mill.

As a newcomer to Maine, I am still learning the dynamics of our new home state. Maine is regarded by some as having one of the oldest populations in the nation. A major concern is about the future of Maine as youth move away for college, jobs, and money. This so-called “brain drain of Maine” is a major concern for our state. The leaders of the conference want to catalyze a movement to generate action in order to bring restoration to Maine.


The speakers were from all different occupations: a geneticist, farmers, dancers, students, an advertising executive, and even an awesome beatboxer. One presenter that I want to single out in this week’s post in David Buchanan. David is an entrepreneurial farmer. He and his wife have started an apple orchard near Freeport, Maine (home of LL Bean). Their orchard is founded on the goal to preserve and re-introduce more apple varieties to the Maine apple eater. Many of the varieties that David grows were nearly lost in cultivation, proverbially cast to the compost pile in favor of apples that are uniform and ship well like Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, and everybody’s favorite target of the apple world, the shiny Red Delicious. Many of these varieties would be lost forever were it not for folks like David who wanted to make sure that these apples, at one time preferred for a specific purpose like cooking or cider making, were saved. One variety David spoke about was tracked down and thought to be extinct until they found one old, lone tree in someone’s backyard in New Jersey. They were able to obtain scion wood from the tree and grow it on in the new orchard.

The reason that this of real interest to me (other than the fact that I love apples) is because we are about to expand the gardens of Coastal Maine. One of our future gardens is a vegetable and fruit garden, large enough to produce food that will be used in our cafe. The area where this garden might be located even has an old apple tree where there was once a farmstead. One of my favorite childhood memories was of my grandfather taking me to an orchard in the fall and picking up several crates of apples. I think they were Macouns. It has been years but I think that was my grandfather’s favorite apple. Or maybe they were Northern Spy. I think it would be really cool if my kids could experience a similar memory right here in our town in Maine.


Buchanan mentioned that a fellow apple enthusiast and historian, Dan Bussey, is releasing an Encyclopedia of The American Apple. In this book, Bussey describes the almost 20,000 apple varieties that once grew in the United States. Selections that you have probably never seen in the grocery store like Harrison and Fletcher’s Sweet. Buchanan is growing these historic selections among many others. He even has plans to release a line of hard cider. As he describes it, not the sweet, fizzy drink you might have gotten out of a bottle or from a bar, but something altogether different. A beverage that is deep and rich and meant to be savored and enjoyed. I hope to visit David Buchanan’s farm soon. I also hope that once we get our vegetable and fruit garden growing, we will be able to select some of Buchanan’s heirloom varieties.

A quick check on-line shows that Stark Brothers and Fedco Trees have a good selection of young apple trees to purchase and grow. Do you know of other nurseries that offer new and unusual apple tree varieties for sale?


Images: Mother Jones, Harmonious Belly

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  1. commonweeder says:

    I had the good fortune to meet David Buchanan last year, and heard him and his mentor John Bunker speak about antique apples last year. They both have great books, David’s is Taste, Memory and John’s is a really useful book about the history of Maine’s old apples – Not Far From the Tree: A brief history of the apples and the orchards of Palermo Maine 1804-2004. You will never look at an apple in the same way again, and you’ll know lots of new apples to taste. We are fortunate in Franklin County MA to have wonderful orchards who are helping to maintain these old varieties.

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