Durango residents Sunday celebrated the sometimes-neglected fruit of La Plata County with the fifth annual Home Grown Apple Days in Buckley Park. Events included fresh cider pressing, a pie-eating contest, live music and other apple-related activities.
Apple Days began five years ago as a harvest festival in partnership between the city of Durango and Growing Partners of Southwest Colorado. While the city no longer provides direct financial support, it is now a cooperative effort with Growing Partners, Colorado State University Extension Services, Zia Taqueria and other organizations.
Lauren Slaff, who was master of ceremonies for the event, said La Plata County grows thousands of pounds of apples.
Slaff, known as Chef Lauren the Kitchen Coach, teaches students in the Durango High School Pro-Start culinary program. The DHS students hosted a caramel apple booth at Sunday’s event to raise money for the culinary team’s activities, including regional and national competitions.
But that wasn’t the Pro- Start team’s only connection to the festival, as student Kelsey Jordan won second place in the adult pie-eating contest. His award was a “re-purposed” basketball trophy with an apple instead of a basketball, and the rest of his apple pie. Other re-purposed awards included bowling trophies with the bowling balls painted red.
First place in the adult contest was devoured by Justin West. In the kids’ competition, Nathaniel Prugh took first place and Sydney Cruz took second.
Adults were given full-size apple pies, while the children competing in the eating contest were given 5-inch pies. All of the contest pies were donated by La Plata County 4H.
Gabe Eggers, with Growing Partners of Southwest Colorado, said harvesting the apples this year was a challenge. He estimated 2,500 pounds of apples were collected for this year’s festival compared with harvests from some years when double that amount were picked by volunteer students from Fort Lewis College.
“It was a challenge this year. The bears got a lot,” he said.
Darrin Parmenter, director of the Colorado State University Extension Office of La Plata County, said a spring frost killed off a lot of the acorns bears depend on, and that brought big omnivores further down in elevation, and they discovered the orchards around Hermosa.
He worried the bears’ visits might become more problematic for future harvests now that more of them know where the nutrient-rich trees are located. “They do have a memory,” he said.
Parmenter also noted some the harvest was lost because people picked the fruit before it ripened to protect trees from being destroyed by bears.
Festival-goers had the opportunity to guess the weight of a large, misshapen pumpkin for a small donation. Several men picked up the massive squash and others tried.
The Extension Office brought at least 10 varieties of apples from its research station in Yellow Jacket in Montezuma County.
Durango Discovery Museum hosted a booth explaining the development and parts of an apple tree. Children could participate in several activities at the booth.
DurangoVegan.com educated visitors about the Food Empowerment Project as well as the group’s efforts. Durango Vegan hosts once-a-month potlucks in Fassbinder Park, though it will find a winter location.
Also, there was The Garden Project of Southwest Colorado, the anti-smoking campaign Breathe Free Durango, La Plata County 4H which also was selling its apple pies as fundraising for the group’s student activities and Fort Lewis College’s Zero Waste Team.
Businesses and other organizations at the event included Zia Tauqeria, Mountain Roots Produce, Turtle Lake Refuge, Unitea House, Durango Nursery, a falafel stand, the city of Durango and several others.
Among the musical performers was the group A-Bun-Dance from Turtle Lake Refuge, which started the event with a number of songs, some of which honored apples.
email@example.com Herald Staff Writer Patrick Armijo contributed to this report.