PINNACLE — Local tree cuttings have made their way to Africa to provide both a steady source of food and income to war-torn countries.
The Southern Heritage Apple Orchard at Horne Creek Living Historical Farm has provided the cuttings that have helped start new trees in African nations like Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, Congo, Sierra Leone and South Sudan.
According to Lisa Turney, Horne Creek site manager, apple tree cuttings are even being used in the Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Uganda, which is operated by the United Nations.
“They need a means of making a living,” Turney said, adding that apple trees provide a source of income that isn’t very labor intensive and doesn’t require replanting.
“Our connection is small, but we’re very proud of it,” Turney said.
Turney explained that apples are a rare item in these African countries and typically sell for 50 cents at market, although she said that Hauser told her apples of the Hunge variety sell for as high as $1.50 and sometimes brings traffic to a standstill at the markets.
In addition to providing African individuals with apple tree cuttings, Apples for Africa also provides classes which educate people on how to care for the trees.
About seven years ago, Horne Creek provided the first cuttings to Apples for Africa, a a non-profit project run by Kevin Hauser of Kuffel Creek Apple Nursery in California.
Because of the heat in some African countries, the trees needed to be heat-tolerant.
Turney added that apple trees require between 300 to 400 hours of “chill hours,” in which temperatures are in the 30s and 40s.
With its huge variety of apples, Horne Creek had some species that fit the bill.
Apple varieties that make up the Southern Heritage Apple Orchard were donated by Lee Calhoun, who resided in Pittsboro, but spent the first five years of his life in Mount Airy.
Calhoun made it his life’s mission to track down and preserve as many southern heirloom varieties in North Carolina as possible. According to Turney, the term “southern heirloom” means apple varieties that were grown in the South prior to 1920.
Calhoun published the book “Old Southern Apples” in 1995, which served as a culmination of the many years that he spent tracking down what were thought to be lost apple varieties.
According to Turney, Calhoun would go out into the country and find especially intriguing varieties that were often located on the estates of elderly people. After finding a variety that he was looking for, he would simply take a cutting from the tree and graft the cutting on a fourth of an acre of land.
By the time he stopped searching for apple varieties, Calhoun had 400 different apple varieties growing in his backyard.
Wanting to spread the varieties he had collected over the years, Calhoun approached Horne Creek Living Historical Farm in 1987 and asked if it was willing to create a repository for his findings, but due to the large commitment, the farm declined.
“We certainly couldn’t have taken it on, so we turned it down at the time,” Turney said.
When Horne Creek eventually decided to take on the project, 800 trees were planted over the course of several years, with the first tree being planted in 2000.
“We started out little by little,” Turney said.
In order to undertake the project, Horne Creek had to clear off a piece of land in 1997 and dig a 600-foot well. To assist with the financial burden of taking on the project, the state provided a $50,000 grant.
During the first years that the apple orchard was established, Turney said that the staff had to walk a very fine line between balancing tours and the development of the orchard. To help with the establishment of the orchard, Calhoun would drive up from Pittsboro once a month.
“We were on a learning curve, we didn’t know much about the trees. None of us were experts, so we had a lot to learn,” Turney said of the early days of the orchard.
To help with the demands of the orchard, Jason Bowen was hired as the resident horticulturalist in 2008.
One of the setbacks that the orchard experienced in the early days was the addition of black matting and gravel around each of the base of the trees. The decision to add the matting and gravel was originally made to retain water, but according to Turney, the trees retained too much water, which caused them to have shallow roots.
The only other repository for the varieties that Calhoun recovered is owned by David Vernon who lives in Reidsville and works as a chemistry teacher. Vernon doesn’t use the trees for fruit production the way that Horne Creek does, rather grafts trees from cuttings and sells them.
As for the future of Southern Heritage Apple Orchard and Horne Creek Living Historical Farm, Turney said that the addition of a building that could provide cold storage and work space is needed at the orchard. She said that the addition of such a facility could increase the educational offerings of the farm.
Aila Boyd may be reached at 336-415-2210.