Savoring Idaho’s Forgotten Fruits
Bite into a crisp, crimson-cloaked Strawberry Parfait apple and you’ll find just that — hints of strawberry flavor and flesh the color of strawberries in cream. With complex flavor profiles and unique names, it’s hard to imagine fruit like this could ever be forgotten.
If you don’t like the Strawberry Parfait, try any of the other 67 varieties of rare and heirloom apples grown at the University of Idaho’s Sandpoint Organic Agriculture Center and you’re sure to find one you enjoy.
The 66-acre living laboratory was established in 2018, thanks in part to a generous donation to the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences by local philanthropist and orchard founder Dennis Pence and his family.
Tucked into the base of Schweitzer Mountain at the northern edge of Sandpoint, it is the university’s only USDA-certified organic research farm. In addition to the fruit orchard, the site includes demonstration gardens, pollinator patches, u-pick raspberries, a cider shop, meeting facilities for University of Idaho Extension and 4-H Youth Development programs as well as dormitories for visiting faculty and students.
Pence’s contribution was inspired by his confidence that U of I would be the right partner to steward the orchard’s commitment to organic and sustainable agricultural production, education and outreach for generations to come.
And like the fruit grown on its trees, the orchard itself is a rare treat.
“It’s a real gem to have a free-standing organic research plot. Very few public universities have that,” Pence said. “And because it’s trees we’re talking about, the value of the education provided to future generations will continue to grow as the years go by.”
If you time a fall trip to Sandpoint just right, you’ll find the orchard’s bulk apples and fresh-pressed cider available in two local grocery stores: Winter Ridge Natural Foods and Yoke’s Fresh Market.
But there’s a reason you probably won’t find these special varieties in your own local grocery store. Since the 16th Century, over 15,000 varieties of apples have been named in North America. However, only 3,000 remain in production today and just 11 varieties make up 90% of commercially grown apples. As the heirloom varieties fall from production, there is a fear they may be forgotten forever.
While maintaining the unique varieties of apples, pears, cherries and other stone fruits grown in the orchard, Facility Superintendent Kyle Nagy, who has been with the property since 2011, educates the public and private orchardists about heirloom fruit — playing his part to keep the varieties alive.
“We had over 1,000 participants register for this year’s Heritage Orchard Conference,” Nagy said, referring to the orchard’s nine-part webinar series that brought in attendees from 46 states and 19 countries — evidence that the fruits of the orchard’s labor are being enjoyed worldwide.
A donation of land has a lasting impact on our students and faculty, and the future of agriculture in our state, region and country. Learn more about sustaining your legacy through a gift of land.
Article by Carly Schoepflin, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Photography by Brent Looyenga, Looyenga Photography
Published in the Spring 2021 issue of Here We Have Idaho.