One hot day, in June of last year, my mom and sister and I drove to Sebastopol for, what my mom told me, was a Gravenstein Apple video shooting for Slow Food. It was so hot that it felt like our truck was melting.
I hadn’t been to Sebastopol much, and I hadn’t been to the Luther Burbank Experiment Farm at all before. We walked through partly shaded gardens of fruit trees, and passed abundant flowers, in a large patch of soil, which the sidewalk curved around like a roundabout. It was amazing how all those beautiful flowers could grow in the middle of a sidewalk, and how the growth of life can be so easily cared for, stuck in the middle of a world where not everybody is lucky. And it wasn’t even springtime. You could walk in between the flowers, and if you had the time, and a real motivation, it wouldn’t be bad just to sit there with a notebook in the middle of the flowers and smell them.
We walked past a magnificent greenhouse, to a patch of oaks, in the corner near the fence was a pile of plywood, and to the east, was a vast, sloped apple orchard, with a few flowering bushes in the middle.
The two men shooting were from Russian River TV, and were filming partners, and had been chosen for the job of a video shooting, here at the Luther Burbank Experiment Farms. The goal was to help save the Gravenstein apples.
The Gravenstein apples, of course, have a very significant taste, and the people of Sebastopol, and Sonoma County in general are proud to share a home with the Gravenstein Apples.
If there is one thing that Sebastopol is known for it’s the Gravenstein Apples, a July, 2013 report on the web for the Los Angeles Times says:
“The fruit market is a pitiless executioner of noncompetitive varieties, but a quixotic Slow Foods group has inspired a modest revival in demand for fresh Gravensteins, which are even starting to show up at markets in Los Angeles after an absence of a quarter-century.”
Google Gravenstein apples, and that’s what you’ll get. Gravenstein apples have been getting wider and wider known across the Russian River area. There is a highway and an elementary school named after the Gravensteins. There are cars with bumpers stickers, and Slow Food is rooting for the success of the Gravensteins too.
But why? Why do the Gravensteins need to be saved? The demand for high-end wineries, and escalating rates of wine tourism in Sonoma County, makes Sebastopol a perfect place for vineyards and wine production. Overall, Sebastopol is Wine Country. But to have vineyards, you need space, and that space is taken up by the Gravenstein apples.
Luckily, Slow Food’s effort to Save the Gravensteins is helping raise awareness of this problem, because the Gravensteins are rare, native to Denmark, but is available exclusively in Sebastopol, and the beautiful orchards of Sebastopol, hold Gravensteins, and just like so many other places, known for their old, beautiful trees, only hold the memory of those trees, an empty skeleton, with only street names, and backyard remainders of the glory that once was.
And that’s why we were there, standing under the shady, majestic oak trees, in the Luther Burbank Experiment Farm in Sebastopol.
A crate labelled Save the Gravensteins showing a beautiful rendering of the Gravenstein Apples sat on a picnic table, we helped spread out a red and white floral tablecloth, clean and crisp.
We filled the crate with apples, and set it as a perfect scene for the cameras.
I had my hair braided loosely on the side and was wearing a turquoise and white sundress, and my sister was wearing a loose, brown sundress. We had another little Slow Food member with us, she was five-years-old, and she was going to be in the video too.
It turns out that if we hadn’t come, the video would not have been possible. My mom, who was expecting just to read a book on the sidelines, was given the job of video narrator because the woman who originally had the job couldn’t make it.
We were given a bowl of apples, a wooden cutting board, and some knives. Then, they began to film. Paula Downing, in a long, floral apron, helped us pour our chopped apples into her bucket, and then haul them over to the apple press.
The whole day, people had been buzzing about the apple press, and, in occasions in which I was not present, there had been much planning involved, for the opening of the community apple press.
The apple press would be the first community apple press in the whole United States.
Lillian Black is a writer and political blogger, and helps on her family’s farm in Petaluma. She raises her own flock of chickens, and writes about them too. She loves cats.
Editor’s Comment: The video Lillian Black can be watched in is Juicing Apples to Save the Gravenstein. Slow Food Russian River thanks Lillian’s mother Rebecca Black, farmer at Green Goose Farm in Petaluma, for narrating the video, Eona Pasternak, Sienna Smith, and Lillian Black for acting the Apple Girls and Bob Barclay and Paul Berg of russianriver.tv for producing and filming the video.