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At UBC, locals revel in apples of a different sort

There’s an apple for every eye at UBC’s annual fall celebration happening at its botanical garden this weekend. The Apple Festival shows off every aspect of the tasty fruit from tree to table with many varieties available for growing, tasting and buying.


“I never would have guessed there was such a uniqueness in apples,” said Chrystal Tagmann, a Vancouver elementary teacher who has been to the festival three times. “It’s amazing—the apple varieties and the festivities,” she said when asked what keeps her coming back. “It’s a nice local event with lots of local merchants and community members.”


Organized by the Friends of the Garden, the comprehensive event has been running for 20 years. There’s a large market area where about 75 varieties of fresh apples can be purchased, along with apple juice, dried apples, and pies. More than 100 varieties of apple tree seedlings for planting in balconies or yards can also be bought. Affectionately known as the FOGs, the volunteers offer expert advice on all the varieties, how to buy trees and care for them. There’s also a tasting tent and a pie stand for trying them out on the spot plus demonstrations of cider pressing and a display of 200 varieties with historical descriptions.


The children’s area offers activities such as face painting, storytelling, crafts like making an apple blossom, a puppet show, a museum display on how to distinguish fruit, and plenty of room to run around. Individual musicians dot the garden to entertain the visitors.


In the apple-tasting tent, visitors can sample about 60 varieties of apples. The festival booklet gives descriptions of each kind and let’s tasters check off their favourites. Volunteers, like Markus Keller, offer slices of each kind for instant snacking and comparison.

Grower Markus Keller offers slices of rare apple varieties to
visitors in the tasting tent. Photo by Kerry Hall

Keller is an orchardist from Keremeos, BC, where he grows 400,000 lbs of apples every year on 24 acres of land. He said it’s a family business that was started when his parents emigrated from Switzerland. They brought apples along with them that were only grown in Europe, like the Rubinette and the Topaz.


Penny Pedersen is the FOG president. She said the event was started by a couple of their members in 1991 and it has gone from selling 3700 lbs of apples then to 39,000 lbs now.

Penny Pedersen photo by Kerry Hall

“They wanted to encourage people to buy apples other than those just found in the super market,” she said. They developed relationships with growers of heritage apples in the Fraser Valley and the Okanagan.


“We need to keep the biodiversity of life,” Pedersen said about the importance of having variety. “If you stop producing heritage apples, it ends up being a monoculture and that’s not good for the universe. Any disease could wipe it out. Genetic diversity keeps them going.”


The festival keeps the UBC Botanical Garden and Plant Research Centre growing, too.  “It brings more people to the garden,” she said. “And it’s one of the ways we can make the community aware and come back to see it.”


It is also their biggest fundraiser, which last year brought in about $70,000 after expenses. The funds support the research, education, conservation and public outreach.


The Apple Festival is open today 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the UBC Botanical Garden. Admission is $4 (cash only), free for children under 12. The garden is accessible to wheelchairs and baby strollers.

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