A little-known treasure lies on the outer edge of Molalla. Almaty Farm is home to the Temperate Orchard Conservancy, a nonprofit that saves and preserves heirloom apple varieties.
Joanie Cooper owns Almaty Farm and is the president of the conservancy. She and two others, Franki Baccellieri and Shaun Shepherd, founded the conservancy in 2012.
Cooper's love for apple-growing sprouted many years ago when she bought a farm outside of Amity that contained the remnants of an old orchard. Friends encouraged her to identify the apples, so she took them to the Home Orchard Society's identification people.
"Each sack that I brought out, they got more excited," Cooper said. "They were so pleased because it's fun to find an old orchard. It's not that these were unusually rare, but they were heirloom varieties. It was planted before 1900."
Cooper says her favorite apple is the one she's eating at the moment, but the apples from that first orchard hold a special place in her heart.
"In a way, those are my favorite apples because that's what started me," she said. "Tompkins King, Northern Spy, Esopus Spitzenburg, Winter Banana, Smokehouse, Dutch Mignonne. These names, they roll off your tongue and they mean nothing to you, but now they mean something because they belong to those apples. So that's what started me really."
But it was longtime friend Nick Botner who pushed Cooper to move forward with a full-fledged farm several years ago.
"An old friend was diagnosed with cancer and he had been collecting apple varieties and other fruit varieties for 30 years," Cooper said. "That was his passion. It's like collecting antiques. And then he was concerned that if something happened to him that his collection would disappear."
Botner is still living, but Cooper admits that when he does eventually pass away, it's likely his hobby orchard will go too. So Cooper and friends agreed to copy the friend's collection, a task they have completed.
But the conservancy boasts more than just those varieties. On the 40 acres, there are about 4,500 to 5,000 trees and about as many varieties. Cooper estimates that it's the largest private collection in the United States and probably the world.
"We're just devoting our lives to this project because we think it's important," Cooper said. "Many of them, they're just going to be gone if somebody doesn't save them."
The project really does require devotion. The three founders work hours upon hours to maintain the farm, along with a few volunteers. Additionally, they identify apples for people from all over and attend festivals.
In September, the conservancy will attend Molalla's Apple Festival for the third year in a row. There, guests will be able to taste a slew of heirloom apples.
"This year, we will be there again and will be bringing as many apples as will fit on the table for people to taste," Baccellieri said.
If you like what you taste, you can graft your own tree as scions are available on the conservancy's website. They hope to soon offer starter trees for sale as well.
To purchase scions, to volunteer, or to visit the orchard (by appointment only for now), use the contact form on the conservancy's website at www.temperateorchardconservancy.org/contact-us/.
The Temperate Orchard Conservancy is located at 29438 S. Molalla Ave.
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