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Orchard social highlights revived apple market in Southwest Colorado

The Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project will host an apple orchard social Oct. 8. (Courtesy Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project)
Oct. 8 event in Dolores put on by Montezuma Orchard Restoration project

The Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project and the Nature Conservancy will host an orchard social on Oct. 8 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 13751 County Road 29 south of Dolores.

There will be a cider pressing demonstration, heritage apple tree sale, apple judging show, and orchard tours. Colorado’s unique orange apple trees will be auctioned off.

Esoterra Ciderworks of Dolores and Fenceline Cider of Mancos will have booths. Food and products will be for sale from Yia Yia’s food truck, and Pueblo Seed & Food Farm Stand. Live music is by the Lindells.

In the past several years, MORP founders Jude and Addie Schuenemeyer have teamed up with apple orchard owners and cideries to slowly bring back the orchard economy that thrived in Southwest Colorado more than 100 years ago.

Heritage apple trees specific to Southwest Colorado have been identified, cultivated, grafted and sold to new and established orchards.

In 2020, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, MORP purchased the 36-acre property on Road 29 to establish the orchard hub. It includes an industrial scale mobile processing plant and apple storage facilities.

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New orchard takes root in Dolores

MORP and the Apple Core Project offer juicing services to farmers, orchard owners, cider makers and other enterprises in the Four Corners region. Services include pasteurized and nonpasteurized juicing service.

Pasteurized juice is packaged into 5-liter juice boxes for retail sale. Nonpasteurized juice is pressed directly into totes or tanks for hard cider production.

The goal is to provide a centralized market base for the estimated 50,000 bushels of apples that fall to the ground and rot every year in Montezuma County, Jude Schuenemeyer said.

Old orchards with rare and historic varieties are now producing bumper crops that can go to market, rather than rot on the ground.

MORP has identified more than 100 historic apple varieties, hosting classes, and mapping orchards throughout Montezuma, Dolores and La Plata counties.

Based on its on-the-ground research, MORP conservatively estimates there are at least 10,000 apple trees within Montezuma, Dolores and La Plata counties, representing a potential yield of 50,000 bushels per year. Depending on price, the market value could reach $1 million per year, Schuenemeyer said.

The MORP orchard hub is located at the west side of Road 29, and is the third driveway north of Southwest Seed.

For more information on the southwest Colorado orchard economy, visit montezumaorchard.org.