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  • 100 years ago,

  • there were 2,000 varieties of peaches,

  • nearly 2,000 different varieties of plums

  • and almost 800 named varieties of apples growing in the United States.

  • Today, only a fraction of those remain,

  • and what is left is threatened by industrialization of agriculture,

  • disease and climate change.

  • Those varieties that are threatened include the Blood Cling,

  • a red-flesh peach brought by Spanish missionaries to the Americas,

  • then cultivated by Native Americans for centuries;

  • an apricot that was brought by Chinese immigrants

  • who came to work on the Transcontinental Railroad;

  • and countless varieties of plums that originated in the Middle East

  • and were then brought by Italian, French and German immigrants.

  • None of these varieties are indigenous.

  • In fact, almost all of our fruit trees were brought here,

  • including apples and peaches and cherries.

  • So more than just food,

  • embedded within these fruit is our culture.

  • It's the people who cared for and cultivated them,

  • who valued them so much that they brought them here with them

  • as a connection to their home,

  • and it's the way that they've passed them on and shared them.

  • In many ways, these fruit are our story.

  • And I was fortunate enough to learn about it

  • through an artwork that I created entitled the "Tree of 40 Fruit."

  • The Tree of 40 Fruit is a single tree

  • that grows 40 different varieties of stone fruit.

  • So that's peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines and cherries

  • all growing on one tree.

  • It's designed to be a normal-looking tree throughout the majority of the year,

  • until spring, when it blossoms in pink and white

  • and then in summer, bears a multitude of different fruit.

  • I began the project for purely artistic reasons:

  • I wanted to change the reality of the everyday,

  • and to be honest,

  • create this startling moment when people would see this tree

  • blossom in all these different colors

  • and bear all of these different fruit.

  • I created the Tree of 40 Fruit through the process of grafting.

  • I'll collect cuttings in winter, store them,

  • and then graft them onto the ends of branches in spring.

  • In fact, almost all fruit trees are grafted,

  • because the seed of a fruit tree is a genetic variant of the parent.

  • So when we find a variety that we really like,

  • the way that we propagate it is by taking a cutting off of one tree

  • and putting it onto another --

  • which is kind of crazy to think

  • that every single Macintosh apple came from one tree

  • that's been grafted over and over from generation to generation.

  • But it also means that fruit trees can't be preserved by seed.

  • I've known about grafting as long as I can remember.

  • My great-grandfather made a living grafting peach orchards

  • in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

  • And although I never met him,

  • any time anyone would mention his name,

  • they were quick to note

  • that he knew how to graft as if he had a magical or mystical capability.

  • I decided on the number 40 for the Tree of 40 Fruit

  • because it's found throughout Western religion

  • as not the quantifiable dozen and not the infinite

  • but a number that's beyond counting.

  • It's a bounty or a multitude.

  • But the problem was that when I started,

  • I couldn't find 40 different varieties of these fruit,

  • and this is despite the fact that I live in New York state,

  • which, a century ago,

  • was one of the leading producers of these fruit.

  • So as they were tearing out research orchards

  • and old, vintage orchards,

  • I would collect branches off them

  • and graft them onto trees in my nursery.

  • So this is what the Tree of 40 Fruit look like when they were first planted,

  • and this is what they look like six years later.

  • This is definitely not a sport of immediate gratification --

  • (Laughter)

  • It takes a year to know if a graft has succeeded;

  • it takes two to three years to know if it produces fruit;

  • and it takes up to eight years to create just one of the trees.

  • Each of the varieties grafted to the Tree of 40 Fruit

  • has a slightly different form and a slightly different color.

  • And I realized that by creating a timeline of when all these blossomed

  • in relationship to each other,

  • I can essentially shape or design how the tree appears during spring.

  • And this is how they appear during summer.

  • They produce fruit from June through September.

  • First is cherries, then apricots,

  • Asian plums, nectarines and peaches,

  • and I think I forgot one in there, somewhere ...

  • (Laughter)

  • Although it's an artwork that exists outside of the gallery,

  • as the project continues,

  • it's been conservation by way of the art world.

  • As I've been asked to create these in different locations,

  • what I'll do is I'll research varieties

  • that originated or were historically grown in that area,

  • I'll source them locally and graft them to the tree

  • so that it becomes an agricultural history of the area where they're located.

  • And then the project got picked up online,

  • which was horrifying and humbling.

  • The horrifying part was all of the tattoos that I saw

  • of images of the Tree of 40 Fruit.

  • (Laughter)

  • Which I was like, "Why would you do that to your body?"

  • (Laughter)

  • And the humbling part was all of the requests that I received

  • from pastors, from rabbis and priests

  • who asked to use the tree as a central part within their service.

  • And then it became a meme --

  • and the answer to that question is "I hope not?"

  • [Is your marriage like the Tree of 40 Fruit?]

  • (Laughter)

  • Like all good memes,

  • this has led to an interview on NPR's "Weekend Edition,"

  • and as a college professor, I thought I peaked --

  • like, that was the pinnacle of my career --

  • but you never know who's listening to NPR.

  • And several weeks after the NPR interview,

  • I received an email from the Department of Defense.

  • The Defense Advanced Research Project Administration invited me

  • to come talk about innovation and creativity,

  • and it's a conversation that quickly shifted to a discussion of food security.

  • You see, our national security is dependent upon our food security.

  • Now that we've created these monocultures

  • that only grow a few varieties of each crop,

  • if something happens to just one of those varieties,

  • it can have a dramatic impact upon our food supply.

  • And the key to maintaining our food security

  • is preserving our biodiversity.

  • 100 years ago, this was done by everybody that had a garden

  • or a small stand of trees in their backyard,

  • and grew varieties that were passed down through their family.

  • These are plums from just one Tree of 40 Fruit in one week in August.

  • Several years into the project,

  • I was told that I have one of the largest collections of these fruit

  • in the Eastern United States,

  • which, as an artist, is absolutely terrifying.

  • (Laughter)

  • But in many ways, I didn't know what I had.

  • I discovered that the majority of the varieties I had

  • were heirloom varieties,

  • so those that were grown before 1945,

  • which is seen as the dawn of the industrialization of agriculture.

  • Several of the varieties dated back thousands and thousands of years.

  • And finding out how rare they were,

  • I became obsessed with trying to preserve them,

  • and the vehicle for this became art.

  • I would go into old, vintage orchards before they were torn out

  • and I would save the bowl or the trunk section

  • that possessed the original graft union.

  • I started doing pressings of flowers and the leaves

  • to create herbarium specimens.

  • I started to sequence the DNA.

  • But ultimately, I set out to preserve the story

  • through these copper-plate etchings and letterpress descriptions.

  • To tell the story of the George IV peach,

  • which took root between two buildings in New York City --

  • someone walks by, tastes it,

  • it becomes a major commercial variety in the 19th century

  • because it tastes just that good.

  • Then all but vanishes,

  • because it doesn't ship well

  • and it doesn't conform to modern agriculture.

  • But I realize that as a story, it needs to be told.

  • And in the telling of that story,

  • it has to include the experience of being able to touch,

  • to smell and to taste those varieties.

  • So I set out to create an orchard

  • to make these fruit available to the public,

  • and have the aim of placing them in the highest density of people

  • that I could possibly find.

  • Naturally, I started looking for an acre of land in New York City --

  • (Laughter)

  • which, in retrospect, seemed, like, rather ambitious,

  • and probably the reason why nobody was returning my phone calls or emails --

  • (Laughter)

  • until eventually, four years later, I heard back from Governors Island.

  • So Governors Island is a former naval base

  • that was given to the City of New York in 2000.

  • And it opened up all of this land

  • just a five-minute ferry ride from New York.

  • And they invited me to create a project that we're calling the "Open Orchard"

  • that will bring back fruit varieties

  • that haven't been grown in New York for over a century.

  • Currently in progress,

  • The Open Orchard will be 50 multigrafted trees

  • that possess 200 heirloom and antique fruit varieties.

  • So these are varieties that originated or were historically grown in the region.

  • Varieties like the Early Strawberry apple,

  • which originated on 13th Street and Third Avenue.

  • Since a fruit tree can't be preserved by seed,

  • The Open Orchard will act like a living gene bank,

  • or an archive of these fruit.

  • Like the Tree of 40 Fruit,

  • it will be experiential;

  • it will also be symbolic.

  • Most importantly, it's going to invite people to participate in conservation

  • and to learn more about their food.

  • Through the Tree of 40 Fruit,

  • I've received thousands and thousands of emails from people,

  • asking basic questions about "How do you plant a tree?"

  • With less than three percent of the population

  • having any direct tie to agriculture,

  • the Open Orchard is going to invite people

  • to come take part in public programming and to take part in workshops,

  • to learn how to graft, to grow, to prune and to harvest a tree;

  • to take part in fresh eating and blossom tours;

  • to work with local chefs to learn how to use these fruit

  • and to recreate centuries-old dishes

  • that many of these varieties were grown specifically for.

  • Extending beyond the physical site of the orchard,

  • it will be a cookbook that compiles all of those recipes.

  • It will be a field guide

  • that talks about the characteristics and traits of those fruit,

  • their origin and their story.

  • Growing up on a farm, I thought I understood agriculture,

  • and I didn't want anything to do with it.

  • So I became an artist --

  • (Laughter)

  • But I have to admit that it's something within my own DNA.

  • And I don't think that I'm the only one.

  • 100 years ago, we were all much more closely tied to the culture,

  • the cultivation and the story of our food,

  • and we've been separated from that.

  • The Open Orchard creates the opportunity

  • not just to reconnect to this unknown past,

  • but a way for us to consider what the future of our food could be.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

100 years ago,

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【TED】Sam Van Aken: How one tree grows 40 different kinds of fruit (How one tree grows 40 different kinds of fruit | Sam Van Aken)

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    林宜悉 posted on 2019/10/01
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