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by intern Alaine Janosy

Apparently there is nothing that says ‘Western Pennsylvania” quite like an apple, or at least that’s what Donald Gibbon thought when he helped found the region’s annual AppleFest, which will be celebrating its fourth year this Saturday, October 24, 2009.

As a member of Slow Food Pittsburgh and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), Donald has a long history of working with all sorts of small-scale farming initiatives in the area. While working as a photographer, he fell in love with the apple cider from a local farm and documented the farm’s entire cider-making process, start to finish. All of this exposure to the apple farming community in Western Pennsylvania made him aware of the not-so-slow decline in the number of area small orchards. These orchards were having trouble competing with all the apples being shipped-in to grocery stores from other locations, both international and national. After reading Michael Pollan’s “Botany of Desire” and Frank Browning’s “Apples: the story of the fruit of temptation,” Donald decided to do what he could to promote local apples.

So, AppleFest was born. It has grown into an event sponsored by Slow Food Pittsburgh, Allegheny Group – Sierra Club, East End Food Co-op, PASA, and Pennsylvania Agricultural Extension Service. The festival has helped raise local awareness about the wonderful apples available to residents right in their own backyard. The local farmers that provide apples and cider to the festival for sale and tasting are more than willing participants because they do not have to give up a day’s work to bring their products to the public. Volunteers go out to the farms and pick up the apples and cider that will then be sold at the downtown festival. Some of the unique varieties featured at the festival include Monroe, Opalescent, and, Donald’s personal favorite, Stayman. According to Donald “this is a very special apple. It is both firm and tart, making it a spectacular baking apple. If you had no other reason to move to SW Pennsylvania, its Stayman apples would be a good enough reason!”