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African Farmers Cultivate Apple Trees From Historic NC Orchard

Horne Creek Living Historical Farm, a 1900s-era working farm in Pinnacle, North Carolina, is prized for its heirloom apples. The farm runs the Southern Heritage Apple Orchard, which is stocked with 400 varieties propagated by cuttings from trees all over the south.  Now, apple trees cultivated with grafts from Southern Heritage trees are under the care of farmers in Uganda, Zambia and Rwanda, thanks to a project called Apples for Africa.

The project is run by Kevin Hauser, who owns an apple nursery in California that specializes in heat-tolerant strains. Because Southern Heritage Apple Orchard has preserved many heirloom trees that can withstand high temperatures, Hauser turned to them for varieties that could grow in the tropics.

“About three or four years ago he started getting cuttings from some of our trees,” says Lisa Turney, site manager at Horne Creek Historical Farm.

Turney says that some people were very skeptical that apples could grow in the tropics, but that Hauser has found a way to make them work.  He has employed a team of people in Uganda to teach African farmers how to plant the trees, most of whom have never even seen an apple tree before.

“They’re teaching classes, training farmers how to grow apples,” Turney says. “They literally have to start out saying ‘This is an apple tree.’”

"They literally have to start out saying, 'This is an apple tree.'"

Part of the reason Hauser thinks the project is beneficial is that apples require less care than most conventional crops grown in tropical Africa and the fruit fetches a higher price. The trees require a single cultivation followed by seasonal maintenance, as opposed to potatoes or cassava, which must be cultivated every year. He stresses that in countries that have experienced or are experiencing wars, many families are run by a single parent. A crop that requires less work and brings in a higher price at the market can lift some of the burden off of a farmer who is also the sole provider for a family.

Turney says that while their connection to the project is remote, they’re still proud of it.

“We’ve got a small connection, in that cuttings from our trees are going over to Africa,” says Turney. “But we’re really proud to be associated with the project.”

Laura moved from Chattanooga to Chapel Hill in 2013 to join WUNC as a web producer. She graduated from the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in the spring of 2012 and has created radio and multimedia stories for a variety of outlets, including Marketplace, Prairie Public, and Maine Public Broadcasting. When she's not out hunting stories, you can usually find her playing the fiddle.
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