Pomological BOOK RELEASE // The Gatekeeping of Apple Foraging

Hello all you beautiful apple tree people

I first must apologize that it has been so very long since I’ve made a formal blog post. It has been many months, and I am certain that I don’t need to tell you in great detail why things have been silent from Gnarly Pippins. As I try and collect my thoughts here in the space of a blog post, I ask simply that you bare with me, as thoughts and announcements spanning A LOT of ground all need to be shared in the same arena.

We are in a new era now, a new era where we are all feeling quite vulnerable, truculence and alacrity are always together, tension is held deeply in the muscles and the heart. Part of why I have been absent online is that the context in which we’re operating is demanding that some of us speak loudly and others keep quiet, and listen with intent. I have been trying my hardest to listen closely to those who are rightly speaking loudly, and insert myself and my own resources when and where it is supportive. Apples, in my interpretation, have long been a symbol of intellectual and spiritual satisfaction. There is a place for them, a high place. They are unable to completely fulfill the needs of the hungry … That statement is food for thought. It resonated with me during this long period of silence, where my energy has gone toward the more urgent needs which must necessarily come before the venerable horticulture of pomology.

To those of you who participated in the T-shirt fundraiser of a couple months ago, thank you. Your small step was a small piece of resistance to the evils that we’re all being called on to uproot during this formidable year. I hope that is not where you stopped. The unlearning and relearning we all should engage in to rebuild our individual belief systems is really the work of lifetimes, which frankly, takes guts, elbow grease, money, dedication, humility, and in time, a lot of apple trees. Are we ready? I don’t know. But I hope we are prepared to do something new together.

BOOK RELEASE!

BIG NEWS FAM! Remember the First Annual Wild and Seedling Pomological Exhibtion that we held last November as part of FC Cider Days? Well, the success of that event was huge and I can really still feel the glow from it —-especially now that the book has been completed! Yes, that’s right, y’all! Together with my good friend, the inimitable William Mullan,(@pomme_queen) we have created a book compendium of the apples submitted to the event. This book gives voice and platform to fruit foragers and explorers who pursue the wild apple over the conventional or the heirloom. It is a sample of contemporary apple and cider culture through the lens of feral pommes (a mere ounce of what’s out there). In the book, we’ve created a snapshot of the emergent culture that has created a new and more accessible field within pomology.

The 80-page book contains 69 individual profiles (of the 126 originally submitted to the exhibition) of apples and pears that folks from all around the continental US have discovered and named. Each one is photographed beautifully and described thoroughly and expressively in pomological terminology. I’m really proud of the effort. It was a great undertaking to pull together this whole racket, and the finished product, I really believe, shows that. It is now available in the webshop, so click on that “shop” tab after you finish reading this post to check it out and grab your copy! Listen to the emerging alternative voice of pomology and fruticulture through this book.

This book is the first installment in what will eventually be a series: we plan to hold this event annually (once COVID-19 no longer affects the ability of a group of apple heads to assemble and taste apples peaceably. We will likely be taking this year off from the exhibition, more on that later). This book is in print now, and will not be reprinted once this run of copies sells out, based on the fact that future iterations of this book will be produced with each year we hold the exhibition.

An important goal within my engagement with feral apple trees is to draw attention to the fact that it is a venerable, freely available (theoretically), ecologically and environmentally sound food resource. I hope that the release of this book will be eye-opening to those who have not established a relationship with their local wild apple tree populations. That belief is at the very center of why I put this event on, why I made this book, why I support and try to educate people in seeking wild apple trees in their locality, and why I want to strive to make this event and book better with each year and installment.

We will be donating proceeds from the sale of book toward organizations supporting and engaging in food and farming advocacy and activism. Notably, Gardening the Community, based in Springfield, MA, will be a recipient of funds raised through the sale of this book. They are a food justice organization that does incredible work. Monetary donations to GTC will help them reach their financial goal for the Summer of 50k! It will also help to go toward nursery / planting stock for an orchard to be donated for planting at their new land plot.

CROP PROGRESS 2020

After the tremendous unity of 2019’s harvest, where New England’s orchards and wild Malus specimens recorded an impressive harvest altogether, we find ourselves in different places this year. 2020 has been one of the 5 hottest years in the history of recorded weather. Our Winter, in zone 5b, was one of the most tepid and indeterminate I’ve ever experienced. Wet too. When Winter finally wore down into Springtime, some surprise cold weather came back to slow the development of things back down. For many folks, apple and pear trees were at the phenological phase of silvertip or green tip, which is a safe phase for cold temperatures, and furthermore, where things can just plateau and pause all development until warming resumes. Luckily for us, the warming did resume, with little interruption, and apple tree blossoms burst forth with no cold damage. Some folks, particularly in higher elevations or those in low-lying valleys, saw extensive or even complete ruin during bloomtime with snowshowers and freezing temperatures during full bloom. I am certain that there are more than a few wild apple trees that I am fond of who will be taking a year off from crop production this year. We need to understand that ‘erratic’ is the trend, and be able to recognize the sets of conditions that apple trees, particularly ones existing outside of cultivation, can thrive in despite adverse conditions at these times of widespread crop loss. Trees succeeding in fruit production, I’m noticing, are often those in areas which have a long and well established “history of cultivation,” which will be the topic of a future blog post. Stay tuned there.

The apples trees at Preservation Orchard, the home farm, have been blessed with abundance in 2020. See pics in slide-gallery below:

I am so excited to bring in this crop. It marks a change in the management of the production blocks at Preservation Orchard in a couple ways: This is the first year that I’ve had the opportunity to do any significant pruning on these trees, and we are managing the understory of some of the production blocks by grazing our herd of Finnsheep, which we are working so very hard to take excellent care of and expand for the future. This will no doubt have some effect on the trees, and the yeast microbiome of our ciders. The crop looks good: ONWARDS!

THE GATEKEEPING OF APPLE FORAGING
I want to take a moment and recognize aloud the privilege of apple foraging. I believe that there is a serious “gatekeeper” condition within the world of foraging in general, and that certainly extends to the wild apple. By that I mean that not everyone is eligible to enjoy access them. The profits that can derived from these wild foraged products construct a separate space within the commercial model of food business that is predominantly or entirely white.

How does white privilege extend into foraging for wild food? What is the forager’s privilege? It’s the ability to engage with an activity that involves some inherently ‘unusual’ behavior (by society’s standards foraging may be construed as such, but what do they know?), and not fear for your safety or your life when someone inquires what you’re doing or why you’re doing it. It’s the ability to safely knock on someone’s door to ask if they’re going to use the apples falling on the ground in their dooryard. It’s the ability to low-key trespass to gather wild edibles. It’s the ability to look a landowner or a cop in the face and believe they won’t shoot you out of an apple tree if you appear to be doing something, despite being totally legal, that looks out of order. The forager’s privilege is a byproduct of America’s entrenchment with the myth of white supremacy.

These foragers tend to be white, upper middle class, highly educated. I am one. We seek the art that is in the fruit that somehow is available to us.

Melissa Madden, from “An Apple Commons”

It is time as a community engaged with using wild apples (all foraged food, frankly) that we recognize the inherent assumptions, beliefs, and racism that enables this passion of foraging for wild apple trees. Contemplate: “foraging for wild apples, as with any wild food resource, is an act that is safely afforded only to those with white skin. Being white and gathering the wild apples, which hold monetary and nutritional value, is a form of white privilege, and upholds the framework of white supremacy.” Does this make sense? Does this not make so much sense? Please be honest with yourself about it. If not, please take a moment to hear this out.

Consider the act of harvesting wild apples as a plain example. Everybody has their own style, their own getup, tools, etc. Mine looks a little bit like this: load 18 bushel boxes into the pickup truck, grab the panking stick (a 12-foot-long trunk of a sapling with a hook screwed into the end of it) and the tarps, make sure I’ve got water because it’s gonna be a long day out there and my hardshell ballcap helmet (low-key PPE against falling fruit smacking the dome), and get movin’! Stop on the side of the road at any of the myriad roadside pippins or parking lot volunteers I’ve scouted during the year, throw the flashers on the truck, set the tarp up around the dripline, climb the tree or raise the panking stick up into the canopy and start shaking!

I’m sure there are plenty of others reading this who employ similar gear and technique. It’s common to receive funny looks from quizzical truckers and confused motorists. Usually nobody stops to ask, just driving right on by. Sometimes you get somebody stopping to see what the commotion is, but often times they’re just curious. Here and there you get an angry landowner asking why the hell you’re stealing those apples off their property. When you apologize and offer the whole of the bounty to them, it’s almost always cool. Sometimes a cop drives by in their cruiser, slows way down when they see a car with flashers on the side of the road, but keeps moving along without stopping. Once, a cop stopped me while I was kneeling on a tarp with crabapples *everywhere* as I ushered them into bushel boxes handfuls at a time. She tacitly stared for a moment, too long, then said, ‘you OK?’ To which I responded “Yep! Thanks!” which punctuated the interaction, followed by her driving off. What of these experiences is owed to the fact that I have light skin? How are my beliefs about foraging informed by my skin color?

Foraging has a whiteness problem. Consider these 3 things which contribute (but still, don’t form a complete picture) :

1. LAND OWNERSHIP – Even though foraging is a type of engagement with land that expressly doesn’t involve the forager owning land, the practice of fruit exploration still has a lot to do with the notion of land ownership, and therefore socioeconomic status (which therefore intersects with race, in a BIG way!). Look at who owns the majority of land where feral apple and fruit trees grow (hint: it’s a predominantly white population.) Consider the context. Consider this moment in time. How would the culture of fruit foraging and cider be different if Native American tribal nations had not been pushed from their land? How would it be different if the Morrill, Homestead and Southern Homestead acts, among other racist actions of the federal government hadn’t seized the land occupied and farmed by black Americans and freedmen in the 19th and 20th centuries, resulting in racially coded loss of land,? What if a proportionate part of the rural land and green public spaces were owned by people of color? How would that change and expand the culture of foraging in general?

2. RACISM IN FRUIT EXPLORATION IS NOT ADDRESSED – There is not enough attention given to the fact that symbolism and ideas of excellence attached with wild foods, foraging, fruit exploration, is a product of white supremacist ideas. There is a lot of history behind that. You ought to read Melissa Madden’s full essay “An Apple Commons” if you’d like more historical depth on that. The appropriation and subsequent erasure of wild food accomplishments of black people, indigenous people, and other non-white people of color has produced a profoundly racist belief that white people belong in that space more than anyone else. Racism and colonialist practice is so entrenched in the notion of wild foods that it doesn’t hardly ever get addressed, even at a time of reckoning like the current moment.

3. CULTURE OF POLICING – This is important. We are in the middle of a time when we are being asked to question the role of police in our society. It is painful to think of the number of people who have been killed or injured by police violence, of whom a very disproportionate amount are black. How does this effect apple foraging, wild food, and access to fruit? Well, the issue of the fortification and militarization of policing in the USA is central to answering that question. The function of the police is to protect private property. The term for “police” is “law enforcement,” and this is a distinction worth remembering. The role of police is not, and has never been, to keep people safe; it has always only been to enforce the law. When they are called to investigate someone violating trespass law, it will not end well. It will not end with bushels of apples for everyone. It has been proven too many times that they do so with lethal force, and very often against people of color. This is a larger conversation that needs to be had, but it manifests its way in apple foraging without a doubt.

WHAT IS THE RESULT OF THIS?
The unfortunate result of all of this is that wild apples, in general, are made accessible primarily to people who appear to fit the description of the landowning class. When a resource that can inspire such joy, awe, nutritive sustenance, fine cider, spiritual satisfaction, relational power in natural spaces, and horticultural value is made inaccessible through some type of gatekeeping, it is perverted into something devoid of the integrity which it is capable of. Consider how, if you have white skin, like me, you may have benefitted tremendously, with specific regard to your ability to locate, gather, and use wild apples to your own profit, be it monetary or otherwise, in large part due to the color of your skin. In the past, I’ve believed that foraging for apples as something that is truly democratic. Something that anyone who is interested to do ought to try. The ignorance of that belief originates from racist underpinnings that enforce an incomplete understanding of what it is like to be black in America — to be Native in America, to be Latinx or Asian or any non-white race in America.

In order to correct this so that we may create a more abundant and fruitful future, full of access to wild and feral tree fruit, we need to engage in direct anti-racist action as a society. We need to root out and dismantle racism, racist laws, and racist culture. There needs to be widespread defunding of police forces so that non-white people accessing green/wild spaces or inquiring about access isn’t interpreted as criminal activity by racist or lookers-on or landowners. We need to rewrite the narrative we subscribe to about people of color in wild spaces & agricultural / horticultural spaces & and the outdoors at large to not only include, but to foreground them as stewards and practitioners of respective spaces and activities.

It behooves us as a community of [wild] apple enthusiasts, growers, cidermakers, and to foreground voices of color who engage in fruit exploration and the usage of wild tree fruit. I am not hearing enough stories from black fruit growers and foragers. I am not hearing stories of Native fruit growers and foragers. I am not hearing enough stories of Asian fruit growers and foragers. I am not hearing enough stories of female fruit growers and foragers. I am not hearing enough stories of trans & non-binary fruit growers and foragers. I believe those stories are out there, but I have not heard them. Please connect people and their stories of this nature if you know of them. I feel lucky that we had so many women contribute to the apple exhibition last year; you will notice that in this book. Going forward, I want to showcase a wider array of voices within this emergent culture of fruit growing, and I think Gnarly Pippins is beginning to be equipped to do so through this new platform of hosting Pomological Exhibitions and producing print compendiums of the products. It will not take the actions of an individual to enact the positive changes we are being asked to create. It will take the collective work of changing the culture and framework of society to see those positive changes manifest in fruit culture.

Thank you for reading this. I hope it doesn’t come across as word-vomit. Writing this out is part of my process of finding my role in this work, as well as to attempt to hold the work Gnarly Pippins does to a high standard of integrity and virtue. There will be a blog post with more musings on the naturalist-side of my brain coming soon on the notion of ‘history of cultivation’.

No in-person Pomological Exhibition this year so we can all stay safe. Mad love to you all. Happy scrumping and cidermaking. Hope you find lots of gems.

Matt //Gnarly Pippins

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