Apples part of the solution

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I can always trust this job to spring a surprise or two every now and then and get me thinking about things differently.

In this case, it happened at the Haliburton Legion on a sweltering Friday afternoon before the long weekend. I was there to listen to people talk about apples.

It turns out Haliburton County has a fascinating history with the fruit, stretching back hundreds of years. Steve Hill, the recently-retired former curator of the Haliburton Highlands Museum, was one of close to a dozen speakers at last week’s ‘All About Apple Trees’ symposium, hosted by ATIP Haliburton and U-Links Centre for Community-Based Research at the Haliburton Legion.

There, Hill told how, late last year, he found evidence of heritage apples thriving in the Highlands as far back as 1890. Strange, considering Haliburton County sits quite a way north of the area the Ontario Apple Growers has established, outlining zones where native apples grow.
Many of the attendees – some of them cottagers getting an early start on the weekend – were fascinated to learn apples do grow this side of the Canadian Shield.

We have Luba Cargill, founder of ATIP, to thank for this revelation. When she moved to Haliburton County from Niagara-on-the-Lake around 20 years ago, she was surprised to find apple tree orchards in the Highlands. She knew how harsh the winters can get this far north and wondered how they survived the elements.

She stewed on it for years, before finally reaching out to U-Links to suggest a student-led analysis of the County’s apple trees. Cargill and Carmen Galea, the research lead, found 170 existing apple tree locations, including 10 orchards.

Much of the presentations I heard focused on what could, and should, be done with these apples. Some are collected and donated to SIRCH Community Services and turned into apple sauce. SIRCH executive director, Gena Robertson, said 9,669 servings of free apple sauce has been distributed across the County since 2014.

We heard, too, how the apples can be used to make apple cider, apple chips, and freeze-dry apples.

Aisha Malik, co-chair of Harvest Haliburton, said there are many ways to maximize the County’s apple supply. By investing further in tree plantings and apple collections, she believes the fruit could play a pivotal role in improving food security for people living beneath the poverty line.

It’s a great point – Haliburton County remains one of the poorest regions in Ontario, with 17 per cent of residents living in poverty according to the City of Kawartha Lakes Haliburton Poverty Reduction Roundtable. Given the recent increase in demand at food banks in Haliburton, Minden, Wilberforce and Cardiff – up around 35 per cent this year at each – help is desperately needed.

While people can’t live exclusively off apples, the fruit can be used in a variety of tasty dishes that are relatively easy to prepare. Hey, if I can make an apple pie, anyone can!

It was interesting, too, hearing Scott Ovell, the County’s director of economic development and tourism, say his department would be willing to work with the likes of ATIP Haliburton to make the Highlands a destination for people interested in apple-based products. Comparisons were made to Prince Edward County – now one of Ontario’s premiere tourism destinations for wineries and vineyard tours.

This symposium attracted speakers from North Carolina, Kingston, and Guelph. A couple I spoke with said they made the trip from near Ottawa.

It’s great to see people are coming up with new potential ways to fight the County’s cost of living crisis. Prior to a few weeks ago, I didn’t have apples anywhere near that particular bingo card. Now, with enough local buy-in, they could be a real part of the solution.