A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy? ~Albert Einstein
We live in a world of convenience, especially where our food is concerned. We run to the store to get our “fresh” fruits and vegetables. Maybe we take the extra time to seek out locally grown fruits from a farmers market, or even support a local farmer with a CSA membership. All the while enjoying the usual fruits we’re accustomed to. And, as Einstein observed, fruit is an basic part of a happy and simple life.
But there are literally thousands of varieties of trees, vines and shrubs that bear edible fruit. Most people are familiar with only the most common varieties of fruits that are available commercially in stores or a few different varieties we might find through our farmers market or CSA. Delicious as these may be, many of these common commercial varieties are available primarily because of the durability of the fruit for shipping, handling and storage, not for best flavor. Most of the best tasting fruits are too fragile for commercial distribution, but they are perfectly suited to the home-gardener. Anyone with at least a six-foot by six-foot patch of open sunlight can successfully grow a tree with delicious fruits, even if only in a trashcan of soil on pavement.
Some fruit-bearing vines, like strawberries, can even grow from a hanging basket without using any ground at all. Properly selected fruit-bearing plants can also be used for edible landscaping, proving a pleasing visual display in addition to gourmet treats. Multiple fruit varieties can be grown on the same plant by means of simple grafting techniques, resulting in a “fruit salad” tree!
So where do you find these ‘best tasting’ fruits? Most are only available from specialty catalogs and growers, but you can also find them through hobbyist organizations like my organization, the California Rare Fruit Growers (CRFG). CRFG promotes interest in all aspects of fruit growing with special emphasis on rare and unusual fruits.
The Redwood Empire Chapter of CRFG is the most active and successful of all the national organization’s chapters. Members of the Redwood Empire CRFG in “Luther Burbank country” get together regularly to taste fruits, trade plants, share/train grafting and pruning skills, and swap tips on local growing techniques and what grows best in local conditions and micro-climate pockets. One local meeting featured over 150 different locally grown fruits to taste!
Many members of the Redwood Empire Chapter of CRFG are also members and activists within Slow Food. The membership boasts noted international horticultural researchers, as well as hobbyists, that have a passion for seeking out and promoting scientific interest, research, and education in and the preservation of rare fruit plants that are not commonly grown commercially. For instance, former Chairperson Phil Pieri, a cattle and hay farmer, grows over 200 varieties of fruit in his personal orchard in Petaluma. David Ulmer, MD, a local ophthalmologist and former President of North American Fruit Explorers, is a national expert on apples and grows 300 varieties of fruit on his Sebastopol acre, and uses his surgical skills when teaching pruning and grafting classes to chapter members and at public events.
The current Chairperson and national Board Member Rachel Spaeth (contact her) is the youngest leader ever, having recently graduated with a Masters in Biology from Sonoma State. Rachel first became acquainted with the group as a recipient of one of their educational grants. Her day job is being the Garden Coordinator for Luther Burbank Gardens. Her former job was as Vegetation Analyst for the Center for Interdisciplinary Geospatial Analysis (CIGA), classifying California vegetation types to create a searchable database. She also teaches classes about bugs at elementary schools. Together with myself, they are leading the search for the lost varieties of apples hybridized and patented in the 1940s-1960s by Sebastopol farmer William Silva.
CRFG Redwood Chapter currently has over 500 chapter members throughout Northern California participating in the group’s online discussions. A 10-year searchable archive of the discussions about all kinds of local fruit and nut topics can be viewable by the public at CRFG-Redwood.org/fruit-talk
If you’re interested in learning more about rare fruits, growing your own fruit, or where to buy them, you can find additional information about CRFG and an events schedule at the national website of CRFG.org, or, for the Redwood Chapter, at CRFG-Redwood.org.