Celebrating Our Heritage of Fruit and Orchards

From berry picking to the historic Fruita orchards, Wayne County has a history of growing, preserving, and sharing fruit.

Native peoples have been gathering elderberries, desert gooseberry, canyon grapes, chokecherries, pickle pear cactus fruit, sunflower seeds, and piñon pine nuts for thousands of years. Fruit, seeds, nuts, and animal fat are combined to form nutritious balls known as pemmican. These are similar to today’s energy bars.

Pioneers found that a wide variety of fruit and nut trees could thrive in Wayne County, particularly in Fruita. Apple and apricot trees were planted by families throughout the county. Because fresh fruit is difficult to transport, many people used fruit preservation techniques to create dried and canned products including jams and jellies. Locally made molasses was often incorporated as a sweetener.

Today, visitors flock to Capitol Reef National Park from March through May to enjoy fruit flowering and June through October to pick cherries, apricots, peaches, pears and apples. Among the largest in the National Park System, the Fruita orchards are on the National Register of Historic Places and feature over 3000 trees.

Young people grades three and up are invited to participate in 4-H after-school programs focusing on our heritage of fruit orchards. Youth will learn about gathering berries, nurturing fruit trees, preserving fruit and making pies, and tree grafting. Each child will take home an apple tree starter. Activities will take place from 3:00-5:00PM at the Loa Civic Center February 26 and 28, March 5 and 7.

A free community dinner will take place on Wednesday March 13 at 6PM. In addition to the free dinner, the evening will also include demonstrations and exhibitions exploring our cultural heritage of orchards, jams, and fruit pies.

If you’re planning to join us, please call the USU Extension/4-H Office at 435-836-1312 to let us know how many will participate in the 4-H program and/or the dinner.

For more than 140 years, people have harvested fruit from the orchards of southern Utah. In 1938, well-known photographer Dorothea Lange photographed a family during peach harvest near Springdale, Utah.

If you harvest or preserve fruit or have orchard memories to share, we welcome you to exhibit or demonstrate at the dinner. Or, send us historical photos of your family history. Contact Project Director Annette Lamb at info@entradainstitute.org or call 435-425-3415 for more information. This project is made possible through a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Entrada Institute and Wayne County USU Extension. LIKE us at facebook.com/sparkinghumanities. – Annette Lamb, The Entrada Institute

Photo Caption:
Photographer Dorothea Lange’s classic 1938 photo of the peach harvest reflects the experiences of many rural Utah families.

Go to the Insider to read the published article.