Friday, May 6, 2011

Heritage Fruit & Nut Trees in the Sierra Foothills

Thanks to Idell for spotting this great article, Treasure of the Sierra Foothills: Heritage Fruit and Nut Trees Discovered and Preserved , which describes how "Organic farming pioneer, Amigo Cantisano, is carrying on the work of Felix Gillet, the father of perennial agriculture in the West. The discovery of 100-year-old orchards has saved a wealth of fruit and nut genetics."

It wasn't that long ago, yet who remembers Felix Gillet?

"His main introductions are walnuts, almonds, chestnuts, filberts, prune plums, the European culinary plum, cherries, pears, apples, figs, strawberries, raspberries, Bing cherry, French prunes and others.

"In one of his catalogs, he had 241 varieties of grapes. He brought in wine grapes, table grapes, and raisin grapes, all of which formed the industries. Felix brought in almost all the common varieties that we grow and use today. When you drink Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon or Petite Syrah or Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, those are French varieties, or when you eat what’s now called a Thompson seedless grape or raisin, that is a French variety that came originally from Afghanistan."

Amigo Cantisano and his associates have "been documenting these plants all over the Sierra foothills and Sacramento Valley. There are literally hundreds of sites, farms, homesteads, ranches, and town sites that still have these plants growing really thrift-fully. They are true Permaculture plants. In most cases, they get no care by human beings and they are really hardy. Weather permitting, they produce amazing crops.

"We have been cataloguing these and identifying them as best we can by variety, and when possible, tracing back the history of them, because sometimes they’re on a homestead that’s got its entire history still intact. One of the places we work on is a state park that is an old mining town, and it has all its history, so we’re able to document the era of these plants. There are literally thousands of them."

It's a great, amazing story - check it out!