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by Paula Shatkin, leader of Slow Food Russian River, coordinator of Sebastopol Gravenstein Apple Presidium Project

Of the hundreds of California apple varieties, the Sebastopol Gravenstein is one of the best—great fresh, great for pies, juice, vinegar, sauce, and brandy. It has a fine balance of sweet and tart, it’s crunchy, and it holds its shape when baked. This heirloom variety was brought to California around 1790 by the Russians. By the early 1900s thousands of Gravenstein orchards were the heart of a major industry in Sonoma County. Annual Gravenstein festivals, parades at apple blossom time, streets and schools named after the apple—all this has been part of the cultural heritage of the area. Now we are losing apple acreage at an alarming rate, primarily due to the much higher profitability of wine grapes.

Slow Food Russian River applied to the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity six years ago to make the Sebastopol Gravenstein the first Presidia in California, and one of only six Presidia projects in the US. Since then, a large, active group of volunteers—the “Apple Corpsԗhas worked with a growing number of local farmers to promote the Gravensteins, to increase demand, and to raise awareness of the importance of supporting local growers.

This year we are sponsoring a Gravenstein Season Kick-Off event at the Sebastopol Farmers market on August 2nd, where local chefs and bakers will offer tastes and samples, Slow Food members will press juice, and a local radio host will broadcast her show and interview Gravenstein apple farmers. Two weeks later, we will sponsor a booth at the annual Gravenstein Faire, August 15th and 16th in Sebastopol, and two local growers—who make juice, sauce, vinegar and other value added products—will share our booth and sell their products. We will give out literature, sell posters and bumper stickers, and sell fresh apples.

To add to the excitement, we have recruited close to 70 Bay Area restaurants that have all agreed to feature Gravenstein apples on their menus for the month of August, and place our posters and other literature in their windows. Our website will list each restaurant to help promote them to the community.

We welcome your interest, involvement, and questions. Email (info@slowfoodrr.org) us or visit our website.

To read recent coverage of the Gravenstein apple project, click here, and to watch it on TV, click here!