SANDPOINT, ID. | ERIC TEGETHOFF, Public News Service – Apple enthusiasts in the Northwest are exploring a past that tasted much different – and could sprout environmental benefits for the future.

Today (May 31) in Sandpoint, the University of Idaho is hosting the first Heritage Orchard Conference to delve into the cultivation and preservation of fruit varieties of past years that, in some cases, have been forgotten.

Kyle Nagy – superintendent and orchard operations manager at the Sandpoint Organic Agriculture Center, and organizer of the event – says some of these lost varieties can be grown sustainably in the northwestern climate.

”Some of the information that we really want to get out to the home gardeners and home orchardists are what are the varieties that don’t have a whole lot of pest and disease pressures in our region,” says Nagy. “Because there’s some that are really prone to scab, and if we have a really wet spring, it’s going to be a rough year if you’re not treating your trees.”

Nagy notes all the fruits grown at the agriculture center are certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, meaning orchard operators steer clear of most chemical treatments like pesticides.

The conference is at Nagy’s center today and includes speakers from the Idaho Heritage Tree Project, Montana State University and the University of Wyoming.

George Raino is an apple enthusiast at the conference who has worked with the Lost Apple Project and discovered a lost variety in Idaho. He says diversity is low in the apple market.

The U.S. Apple Association says only 15 varieties make up 90% of production. Raino says the reason is simple – if they don’t ship well, large-scale commercial producers won’t plant them. 

But interest is growing in forgotten apples with the rise of the “locavore” – or folks who purchase locally grown food, which is where most rediscovered varieties are sold.

”They’re becoming a more educated consumer and making choices that, all around, are probably better for the environment and better for their health, and offer gastronomic opportunities that you won’t find in a supermarket,” says Raino.

Raino says eating locally grown food leaves a smaller carbon footprint, with fewer miles traveled from tree to market. 

But he notes that perhaps the most enticing thing about these rare apples is the unique flavors. Raino says once folks get a taste, they go searching for more.