Homegrown science

Free apple tasting, webinar series and food summit make for a busy fall at UI Sandpoint Organic Ag Center

By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
Reader Staff

Everyone knows that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. As it turns out, samples of a few dozen apples on a Saturday afternoon keep agricultural science alive and well in Sandpoint, so make sure to do your part at the University of Idaho Sandpoint Organic Agriculture Center on Saturday, Oct. 22 from 1-4 p.m., as the orchard hosts a free tasting of 30-40 different apple varieties.

An orchard worker harvests apples from the Sandpoint Organic Agriculture Center. Photo by Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey.

“I was originally hoping for around 30, but I think we’ll be closer to 40 varieties to taste,” said Orchard Operations Manager Kyle Nagy. “There should be a lot of great apples for people to taste, and some that are cider apples that aren’t great for eating but I figure it’s good to give people a taste of all the different apples that are out there.”

The Sandpoint Organic Agriculture Center (10881 N. Boyer Road) is a 66-acre property located at the base of Schweitzer Mountain boasting 68 varieties of apples, eight varieties of pears, and several other fruits and agricultural projects. Dennis Pence gifted the land to the university in two parts — first in 2007 and then in 2018.

“The big thing that separates us from other UI ag stations across the state is that we’re certified organic and we’re dedicated to organic and sustainable agriculture practices,” Nagy said. “That opens up a lot of opportunity for grant funding for research for the university because a lot of grants for organic research require that that research take place on a certified organic farm. 

“By having one of those in the UI network, it’s easier for them to work with these organic applications,” he added.

Researchers are currently using the property to evaluate soil health in organic production systems; to grow huckleberries and study pests that typically target the plants; and to test a multi-species rotational grazing system including sheep and chickens.

“We’re hoping that people will hear what we have going on up here and think of the University of Idaho as a higher [education] institution that’s pursuing regenerative and sustainable agriculture,” Nagy said.

As for the Oct. 22 apple tasting, Nagy said attendees are welcome to walk through the various sample stations anytime between 1-4 p.m. on a self-guided tour of the orchard with scoresheets in hand, rating each apple on a scale from 1-10 in flavor and texture categories.

“We hope people will leave those sheets for us, and then I will compile all that data … and put out a top-10 list of what varieties people enjoyed eating,” he said, noting that the event is a way to conduct “a little bit of citizen science.”

While the tasting tour is free, there will be apples for sale. SOAC also sells its organic apples at Winter Ridge Natural Foods and Yoke’s Fresh Market, and will soon have cider for sale at those locations as well.

“All the funds come back here so that we can keep working on projects,” Nagy said.

As for future events, SOAC will be hosting the Selkirk-Pend Oreille Food Summit on Friday, Nov. 4 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The summit will feature presentations from local producers and other food professionals, as well as a catered lunch and cider tasting. Tickets to the event are $35 for the general public, $15 for students and available at sp-food-summit.eventbrite.com.

“That’s going to be an all-day event trying to connect our community with the local food systems here,” Nagy said.

SOAC is currently hosting its annual Heritage Orchard Conference, which offers monthly webinars targeting fruit tree enthusiasts. The series runs from October to April, with the next talk scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 16. Register for the conference and learn more about participating speakers at uidaho.edu/cals/sandpoint-organic-agriculture-center/conference.

While the conference was originally held in person in Sandpoint, it went online during the pandemic and has since been attended by nearly 2,000 people in 27 countries. 

“It’s great having the international exposure,” Nagy said. “We were nervous about pivoting to a webinar, but it’s really helped expand our reach.”

To learn more about SOAC, visit uidaho.edu/cals/sandpoint-organic-agriculture-center. Nagy can be contacted at [email protected]

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