- Associated Press - Friday, April 8, 2016

NEW HARMONY, Ind. (AP) - New Harmony is the newest site of the “Tree of 40 Fruits” initiative.

The part public art installation, part research project, part conservation effort, is being done by artist Sam Van Aken, who has traveled the country planting and maintaining 20 other “40 Fruits” trees, the Evansville Courier & Press reports (https://bit.ly/1SgOmZk).

Van Aken was in New Harmony last week planting two of the trees and meeting with area residents and community leaders. He’ll return twice a year for three years following the planting to continue grafting different fruits. His visits will ensure the trees’ stability and also be an opportunity to teach grafting workshops in the community.

What makes this project even more unique, said Garry Holstein, director of the New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art, is that Van Aken researched the varieties of stone fruits the Harmonists would have brought over to New Harmony with them when they came to establish the utopian community. To original Rappites had orchards in the area and Van Aken is pulling those heirloom varieties from the time period and grafting them to the two trees planted there over the next three years.

“This is an amazing project that not only preserves our past but also carries us into the future by conserving these heirloom varieties,” Holstein said. “It becomes an art project, a historical project and a conservation project all at the same time. It fits really well into what we do here in New Harmony.”

Each of the Tree of 40 Fruits growing across the U.S. produces over 40 different types of stone fruits including peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, cherries and almonds. Every spring, the trees will blossom in multiple tones of pink, crimson and white, and in summer, the trees will bear a variety of fruit. The trees are carefully sculpted through the process of chip grafting - the process of fusing wood from an existing tree onto a branch of another tree.

The two trees in New Harmony are planted next to the Atheneum.

Holstein reached out to Van Aken after hearing about the project and obtaining funding from the Efroymson Family Fund to make the project a reality.

The trees are already 6 years old and have 20 varieties of fruit, Holstein said. Over the course of the next three years Van Aken will graft varieties of fruit from the Harmonist community days for a total of 40 fruits.

Van Aken will be giving a lecture the last weekend of August at the Atheneum about the project and process.

“In 2017, when Sam continues his stability visits, we will offer workshops on grafting,” Holstein said. “It is our hope that community members will learn to graft and then take trees back to their homes and plant them. We will be working to re-establish the heirloom varieties in the town and even the region.”

The long-term hope, he said, is to create a food forest with the different varieties growing all around town. The project will have a lasting impact on the community both by teaching the skill of grafting and also through the gift of the trees, Holstein said.

Van Aken started the project as a way of trying to avoid “massive monocultures” of foods he was discovering. In a TEDx talk, Van Aken talked about the beginnings of the Tree of 40 Fruits:

He was looking for different varieties of stone fruits and was struggling to find much but found one orchard in central New York that housed 150 to 200 years of history and contained nearly all of the heirloom, native and antique varieties of stone fruits. The problem was the orchard was getting ready to be torn down due to a lack of funding. Van Aken had grown up on a farm but up to that point hadn’t really thought much about farming in 20 years.

But he picked up the lease on the orchard as he felt like letting all those varieties die out would be a tragedy. So he’s been preserving them and working for the last several years methodically grafting all of these species onto his trees, growing what he has called the Tree of 40 Fruits.

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Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, https://www.courierpress.com


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