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Graniwinkle Apple. Photo by Ben Watson

Download Noble Fruits—A Guide to Conserving Heirloom Apples here.

It’s hard to imagine that a fruit as ubiquitous as an apple could qualify for an endangered foods list. After all, you could walk into any grocery store right now and be greeted by rows and rows of brightly polished red and green specimens.

Look a little closer, and you’ll see that these apples probably belong to one of the eleven apple varieties that make up over 90 percent of apples grown and eaten in the U.S., with Red Delicious alone constituting a hefty 41 percent. Now consider that a century ago, more than 15,000 varieties unique to North America populated our landscape with beautifully striped and spotted skins and names like the Dula Beauty, the Gloria Mundi, and the Newton Pippin.

Only one fifth of those varieties survived, with 81 percent of those precious few considered “endangered” on the marketplace. A new report from Slow Food USA, Noble Fruits—A Guide to Conserving Heirloom Apples, draws attention to the rapidly declining number of apple varieties—and proposes some solutions along the way.

The instructive guide highlights many little-known heirloom varieties, and provides tips and advice for people interested in planting and harvesting them. The guide also raises awareness about the accessibility of heirloom apples—many varieties are available at the over 5,000 farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs throughout the U.S., often at prices that are similar to, if not below the prices of those cookie-cutter supermarket varieties.

“Apples are the canary in the coalmine. The decline of traditional, American varieties exposes the impact of our industrialized food system. We are losing our delicious, edible history. Local and unique foods are becoming extinct as food designed for travel and shelf life dominate the market,” says Ed Yowell of Slow Food NYC.

Luckily, groups around the country are working to keep America’s apple heritage alive. To read more about their projects, the stories behind the apples, and how to plant your own,

download Noble Fruits—A Guide to Conserving Heirloom Apples here.