Today we went to visit the Brogdale Collections in Faversham, Kent. It is home to the National Fruit Collection and is known for having over 2,200 apple tree varieties from all around the world and almost every county in Britain. It is owned by Defra (Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs) and managed by Fast (Fruit Advisory Services Team LLP) and the University of Reading. The advantage of the University of Reading co-managing the Collection is that there is a large amount of research being done on site.
The Brogdale Collections has 150 acres of orchards and it has a very different approach to farming. Their aim is to conserve apple trees that are not necessarily popular at the moment on the commercial circuit. Without their Collection a lot of apple varieties would be extinct since our tastes fluctuate and there is no demand for that many varieties on the market. In their orchards, they have varieties of apple trees that were popular during the Medieval Period, Victorian era and today. The collection continues to increase with new ones coming from all over the world.
Walking through the apple orchards was like walking through a living museum. It requires daily care and intervention from horticulturalists, farmers and workers. At the moment they are in the process of pruning the trees. We met with the horticultural curator, Lorinda Jewsbury, who was in the process of collecting scions (fresh branches) from different apple varieties for research and propagation. The farm provides these scions for nurseries and community farms that are interested in growing certain apple varieties. There are two trees for each apple variety kept in the Collection.
Lorinda explained that the tree’s survival was far more important than the tree giving fruits, which is why the purpose of the farm is very different from a commercial one. However, they do facilitate the commercial apple growing process by providing varieties to farmers. It was interesting to find out that at the moment heritage apple varieties are gaining popularity with the farmers. Additionally, since the apple trees are not there for their fruits, it is common to find them still unpicked from the trees and rotting on the ground.
The co-dependence between countryside and city quickly became clear to us. From the upkeep of the landscape to the production of different apple varieties, so much relies on the communication between farmers and consumers. Walking through this living museum we witnessed traces of history through the old apple varieties. We also saw scientific (biological, horticultural) advancements that reflect the volatility of our consumer needs. From the visit, we gained insight on the importance of conservation efforts for fruits, the significance of fruits and farming to cultural heritage, and the relationship between producer and consumer. We also questioned the boundaries of human intervention to nature.