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This year, for the first time ever, the RAFT alliance (Renewing America’s Food Traditions) will be focusing on apples. Filling us in on their activities is our apple expert, author Ben Watson. Ben is chairing the Ark of Taste committee and helping Gary Nabhan and the RAFT alliance’s efforts to record, restore and renew disappearing heirloom apple varieties. On the docket are fruit tree grafting workshops, an heirloom apple experts summit, and education efforts such as a forgotten fruit manual/manifesto, and a series of posts for us here on the blog.

by Ben Watson
(Ben Watson is Chair of the Slow Food USA Ark of Taste Committee and an amateur nurseryman and fruit grower.)

Late February, western New Hampshire. Tonight snow comes down in heavy wet flakes, leaving a fresh white comforter several inches thick over the landscape. Yet those of us who live and garden in this place aren’t fooled by the weather. The sun, when it shines, is stronger now, the days longer, and the signs of spring are only a few weeks away. Soon enough sap will be rising in the sugar maples, small sugarhouses will open their louvered roofs, and white steam clouds billowing from the wood-fired evaporator pans will puff into the bright blue sky. Soon too the snowpack will retreat, and on the sunny, exposed edges of the lawn the first species crocus will emerge, tentative and yellow, followed by other early bulbs: snowdrop, squill, and grape-hyacinth.

It’s a season pregnant with potentiality. We order seeds, clean and sharpen our tools. Like baseball players arriving at spring training, our outdoor ambitions for the growing season are a blank slate. Anything is possible as we enter this Lenten season – we’ve no hits, no runs, no errors. And now is the time that apple growers are contemplating the orchard, though in truth we have never forgotten about it. The trees have stood silent, dormant, but we’re still eating some choice, long-keeping fruits from cold storage: Roxbury Russet, Mutsu, Northern Spy.