22 October 2012

Celebrating Apple Day In The City

rotten apple

Apple Day, celebrated on 21 October each year, was an idea fostered by a charity called Common Ground in 1990. One of its founder members was Roger Deakin.

The charity doesn't seem to have a fully functioning presence on the internet, so I can’t say for certain what they do, but I like what they say (or at least what they said the last time they updated their website). Apple Day is, as you imagine, about celebrating apples and orchards and cider and all manner of appley things. It encourages people to engage with our apple-related heritage, to preserve old varieties of apple [at this point I wonder who is sticking up for the pear], and to think about where our food comes from. Which are topics I’m sure many of this year’s Apple Day events highlighted.

But Common Ground are also interested in promoting what they term ‘local distinctiveness’. This is the preservation of what makes an area and its people unique. By thinking about native varieties of apple and the old orchards and farming system that maintained them we may be able to get in touch with ideas of permanence, roots, ‘small is beautiful’ and our connection with the land under our feet.

"Using the apple as a symbol of the physical and genetic diversity that we must not let slip away, Apple Day offers everyone a part on the world stage to reverse the negative aspects of homogenisation, globalisation, climate change and even more importantly to reinvent a good relationship with nature in our everyday surroundings."

"From the start, it was intended to be both a celebration and a demonstration of the variety we are in danger of losing – not simply in apples, but richness and diversity of landscape, place, ecology and culture too."

To be honest when I went to an Apple Day inspired event this Sunday my motive was to find some material to fill a blog post with, not necessarily to manifest the symbolic power of the apple, but, actually, in a gentle way I did witness people and place coming together to make character.

I chose to visit Parrs Wood Rural Studies Centre. This used to be a kitchen garden for an 18th century estate. Early last century Manchester council bought it, and it is now a much underused resource next to the local school, a cinema complex and a new casino.

True to my curmudgeonly nature at first I walked round raging to myself at the neglected herb garden,

For some reason this makes me laugh

the magically wild wood that no one visits, the untouched compost bins, and the decaying rhubarb. ‘Give me some grant money and I’ll lick this place into shape’, I ranted to myself (not necessarily truthfully). As I was sweeping out to the car park an apple tree pruning demonstration began, and being the only activity apart from jam buying and zorbing (!) I paused to take a look ... and got completely hooked. Now, I haven’t got an apple tree, or am likely to have one (the purpose of any tree in my garden is to block out the neighbours, and apple trees are too small for that), but it was a treat to watch a man in a holey jumper expertly wield a pruning knife and turn a twisted old tree into a spare but hopeful food source. It was nice to see someone whose skill sets is greater than deciphering a Heston Blumenthal recipe and knowing how to wield a Sky remote. This demonstration, although ostensibly about imparting gardening tips, was more about engaging with something Real.

I wasn’t the only one fascinated by his ... what shall we call it? Authenticity? He managed to keep quite a big crowd of diverse people entertained for over an hour. There were people who apparently did have fruit trees; a man who I think had something to do with the centre itself kept an anxiously close eye; there were young couples; the compulsory (for a city) staffy owner; the crazy who asked too many long winded questions; and someone with as little genetic relationship to this area as me (me being a southerner).

So ultimately Apple Day in a beautiful and under resourced corner of south Manchester did produce the effect its originators envisioned: a diverse group of people came together to celebrate (as defined by standing transfixed in a group) nature.